News of the World succeeds in justification defence against CFA claimant
A Romanian alleged to have been a member of a gang plotting to kidnap Victoria Beckham has lost his claim for libel.
Mr Justice Eady today ruled that the allegations, published in the News of the World in November 2002, were substantially true.
The Claimant, who sued under the false name Alin Turcu, did not attend the trial and gave no evidence. The judge described as “at least troubling” that fact that the Claimant did not put in an appearance, particularly since the Claimant was advancing a case of dishonesty against the Defendant’s journalists.
During the two week trial the News of the World relied upon secretly recorded conversations between the Claimant and other members of a gang of criminals. The gang had been infiltrated by the Defendant’s journalist Mazher Mahmood and an Albanian contact called Florim Gashi.
During three meetings the Claimant was recorded contributing to discussions between gang members about serious crimes that had been committed or planned. The gang also discussed two proposed kidnaps, including a kidnap of Victoria Beckham. The court was shown video footage of one gang member brandishing a gun and of another apparently taking part in a reconnaissance of the Beckhams’ home.
The only evidence the Claimant’s advocate David Price had sought to rely upon in order to explain the contents of these tapes was to be from a Romanian doctor living in the UK called Adrian Pasaraenu. Dr Pasaraenu, who was witness summonsed by the Claimant, had been alleged by the News of the World to be another member of the gang. Upon attending the trial Dr Pasaraenu challenged the witness summons, citing the privilege against self incrimination. The judge discharged the witness summons, referring to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which undermines the double jeopardy rule in relation to defined “serious offences” including conspiracy to kidnap.
In these circumstances the judge rejected as “unconvincing” the contention advanced on behalf of the Claimant that the conversations about the kidnap were no more than “idle pub banter” by a “bunch of idiots”. The judge also rejected the Claimant’s suggestion that the gang members had been “set up” by Gashi to take part in such conversations.
The judge also commented that the newspaper was in a “wholly unenviable” position facing a Claimant suing under a conditional fee agreement from whom there was no prospect of the Defendant recovering its costs. Nevertheless, the Court ordered the Claimant to pay £100,000 on account of News Group’s costs within 28 days.
Click here for the full judgment and 5RB case report.