Peter Cruddas wins libel and malicious falsehood action over Insight's 'cash-for-access' sting
The former Treasurer of the Conservative Party, Peter Cruddas, has won his legal battle with the Sunday Times after being awarded £180,000 against the newspaper and two of its Insight journalists. The action for libel and malicious falsehood arose from the publication of articles in March last year alleging that he was corruptly selling influence over policy in return for massive donations to the Tories and being willing to accept such donations from overseas donors in breach of election law.
The Insight team, Jonathan Calvert and newly-hired Heidi Blake, covertly recorded a two-hour meeting with Mr Cruddas posing as international financiers from a wealth management fund wishing to make substantial donations to the Conservative Party. 10 days later they published a front-page article in theSunday Times claiming that Mr Cruddas had been filmed “selling secret meetings with the prime minister in return for donations of £250,000 a year and boasting: ‘It will be awesome for your business’.” The newspaper falsely claimed that Mr Cruddas made the offer “even though he knew the money would come from a fund in Liechtenstein that was not eligible to make donations under election law”. Mr Cruddas was forced to resign by the Conservative Party hours after being told of the story by the Sunday Times.
At the High Court in London today, awarding the CMC Markets Chief Executive one of the highest libel awards in recent years, Mr Justice Tugendhat found both Insight journalists to be malicious. Handing down judgment after a 2-week trial – rejecting the evidence of Mr Calvert and Ms Blake as “not frank” and much of it “incredible” – the Judge held that both journalists had “consistently and seriously … misled their editor”, knew their allegations against Mr Cruddas were false and were published with the “dominant intention” of damaging him.
The Court heard evidence from John Witherow, the then editor of the Sunday Times, that he had not even watched the secretly recorded footage of the meeting with Mr Cruddas before the articles were published. As to the basis on which they used subterfuge against Mr Cruddas, the Judge said: “The journalists claimed in evidence that [Mr Hymas, the news editor] had been kept fully informed. But since I find much of their evidence incredible, I doubt that too.”
Fixing the level of damages, the Judge referred to the “maximum possible publicity” the articles had received and the “public humiliation” caused to Mr Cruddas by a statement made by the Prime Minister after publication.
During the trial the Court heard that Mr Cruddas had been a life-long Conservative supporter and given substantial sums to charity. He played a pivotal role in helping the Party win the ‘No to AV’ campaign by donating £600,000 to the campaign and by raising substantial funds as its Treasurer.
The Defendants were ordered to pay indemnity costs from 26 June 2013 and to pay £500,000 on account of costs by 14 August 2013.