Polanski awarded £50,000 damages

Film director wins libel claim against Vanity Fair

Roman Polanski has won his libel action against Conde Nast, with the jury awarding him £50,000 in damages.


Mr Polanski was suing over an article in Vanity Fair which alleged that he made a pass at a woman in a Manhattan restaurant on the way to his wife Sharon Tate’s funeral in 1969. Miss Tate was eight months pregnant when she was killed by Charlie Manson’s ‘family’. The article alleged that Mr Polanski said to the Swedish woman that he would “make a new Sharon Tate” of her.


Mr Polanski is unable to enter the UK due to the likelihood that he would be arrested and extradited to the US, which he fled in 1977 after pleading guilty to unlawful intercourse with a 13 year-old girl. The House of Lords decided earlier this year that there was no ‘outlaw’ principle in English law, and that Mr Polanski was entitled to give evidence via video link from Paris.


In his closing speech on behalf of the magazine’s publishers, Conde Nast, Tom Shields QC had said that the fact that Mr Polanski had casual sex within a month of his wife’s death revealed a “certain callous indifference” to her memory. He added: “As to whether Mr Polanski’s reputation is capable of being damaged, sadly, we would say, it is beyond repair.”


Mr Shields QC urged the jury that even if his defence failed, he should not be entitled to any damages and the jury should give Mr Polanski “a symbolic award”, such as “the price of a cinema ticket”.


John Kelsey-Fry QC, on behalf of Polanski said the director had been in “utter grief” after his wife’s death, not “utter indifference”. He added, “the truth is that Mr Polanski was about as removed from callous indifference as is possible to imagine.”

In summing up, Mr Justice Eady told the jury that “much has been made of Mr Polanski’s lifestyle and his attitude towards casual sex in his earlier years” but that it was important to remember that it was not a “court of morals”, adding: “We are not here to judge Mr Polanski’s personal lifestyle.”

In a statement made today after the jury returned a unanimous verdict in his favour, Mr Polanski said “It goes without saying that, whilst the whole episode is a sad one, I am obviously pleased with the jury’s verdict. Many untruths have been published about me, most of which I have ignored, but the allegations printed in the July 2002 edition of Vanity Fair could not go unchallenged.”

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said outside court: “I find it amazing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom.” The magazine has been left facing an estimated costs bill of £1.5m.

5RB‘s Matthew Nicklin will be discussing the case on this week’s Law in Action on Radio 4.