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BBC and ITV libel cash for McAlpine
Lord McAlpine, who was wrongly implicated in child sex abuse allegations, has settled his libel actions against the BBC and ITV.
The former Tory Party treasurer was not at London's High Court to hear their solicitors apologise unreservedly for the damage and distress caused. His lawyers confirmed that the agreements involved the payment of £185,000 damages by the BBC and £125,000 from ITV, together with very substantial costs.
The peer's counsel, Edward Garnier QC, told Mr Justice Tugendhat that the action followed a Newsnight broadcast in November about the alleged sexual abuse of boys at the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.
Two victims claimed that they suffered abuse "at the hands of a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years". The item did not name Lord McAlpine, but the programme-makers intended him to be the target of the allegations, he added.
"Unfortunately, in fact disastrously, names had already been named. Throughout the day on November 2, Newsnight's forthcoming report had been widely trailed on the internet. Furthermore, Lord McAlpine's name had been linked to it. In the aftermath of Newsnight's broadcast, Lord McAlpine was widely identified as the subject of Newsnight's allegations.
"In short, Newsnight made the most serious of defamatory allegations about Lord McAlpine, tarring him as a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing vulnerable young boys living in care. Those allegations are untrue. As the BBC now accepts, they were utterly baseless. These disgraceful allegations should never have been made."
Sir Edward said that, before the broadcast, the BBC had not even contacted Lord McAlpine. If it had, he would have told them that he had never been to the home in question. Furthermore, it was only after the programme aired, that interviewee Steve Messham was shown a photo of Lord McAlpine. Having seen it, he immediately withdrew his allegations and apologised.
Counsel said Lord McAlpine had nothing but sympathy for Mr Messham and for other boys who suffered abuse. And he wished it to be known that he generally held the BBC in great esteem. But Newsnight had broadcast the most highly defamatory allegations about him, which had not only caused him great distress and embarrassment, but had affected him to his soul.
Solicitor David Attfield, for the BBC, said it withdrew the allegations unreservedly and apologised sincerely for the great damage and distress caused: "The BBC is pleased to be able to take this opportunity to apologise to Lord McAlpine before the court. It accepts that it cannot put the clock back and wishes to express its genuine remorse for the harm it has caused him.""
Ian Felstead, for ITV and Schofield, said they fully accepted and wanted publicly to state that there was no truth whatsoever in the allegations against Lord McAlpine: "Mr Schofield sought to paraphrase a question that had previously been raised in the House of Commons and the fact that the list was briefly visible to viewers was entirely inadvertent, a mistake immediately acknowledged by ITV and Mr Schofield."