Solicitor wins phone hacking libel claim

PCC and Baroness Buscombe make statement in open court and pay damages to Mark Lewis

A libel action brought by solicitor Mark Lewis against the Press Complaints Commission and its chair,  Baroness Buscombe, has settled with payment to Mr Lewis of a sum in damages and a statement in open court. It is believed to be the first case in which the PCC has been successfully sued for libel. 

Mr Lewis acted for Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, in a claim against News Group Newspapers for phone hacking.  During the litigation an application was made for non-party disclosure against the Metropolitan Police. In September 2009, when giving evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Lewis described how, whilst waiting for the application to come on, a police officer attending on behalf of the Metropolitan Police “mentioned the number of people whose phones had been hacked . . . but they said that there was evidence about, or they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved. It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages.”

Following a communication between the PCC and the Metropolitan Police (which publication is also complained of and in regard to which there has not been a settlement), Baroness Buscombe made a statement to the Society of Editors’ Annual Conference in November 2009 concerning Mr Lewis’ evidence to the Select Committee.  The statement was widely reported.  In his Particulars of Claim Mr Lewis averred that these words meant that he had lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by the police officer (the Defendants denied that the words bore this meaning).

The PCC and the baroness today made a statement in open court including the following “Baroness Buscombe has never suggested – and does not believe – that Mr Lewis misled the select committee and her statement was not intended as a criticism of him or the evidence which he gave to the select committee. Baroness Buscombe regrets that her statement may have been misunderstood.”

The parties have not revealed the amount paid in damages.  Mr Lewis’ claim continues in respect of a communication between the PCC and the Metropolitan Police.

5RB’s  William Bennett (instructed by Taylor Hampton) acted for the Claimant. Matthew Nicklin (instructed by Sheridans) acted for Baroness Buscombe and the PCC.