Court of Appeal has overturned a judgment of Mr Justice Gray on behalf of Mr Michael Gough, head of the legal department at Bedford Borough Council. The action was against a local newspaper, Bedfordshire on Sunday, and Mr Stewart Lister. The Court of Appeal unanimously found in favour of Mr Gough and the parties agreed to pay Mr Gough £27,500 in damages. Both the newspaper and Mr Lister apologised to Mr Gough and an apology was published on the front page of Bedfordshire on Sunday.
At the trial last year we also successfully represented Shaun Field, the Chief Executive of Bedford Borough Council, who recovered a total of £52,500 in damages also against Bedfordshire on Sunday and Mr Lister.
12 March 2003
The Court of Appeal today overturned a decision of Mr Justice Gray at a trial of libel proceedings which took place last year, and allowed an appeal brought by Michael Gough.
Mr Gough is a solicitor and the Head of Corporate Administration and the Monitoring Officer at Bedford Borough Council. He sued Local Sunday Newspapers (North) Limited, the publishers of Bedfordshire on Sunday, and Stewart Lister, then the Conservative Party agent in Bedford, and appealed, over an article and press release, both published in May 2000. In these, Mr Gough was accused by the Defendants of being grossly incompetent in his handling of an application to court.
At the trial, which took place over 13 days in February-March 2002, Mr Justice Gray found against Mr Gough. The Court of Appeal (Lords Justices Simon Brown and Keene and Mr Justice Bell) have now unanimously allowed his appeal. In the course of his judgment, Lord Justice Simon Brown said “I … have found Mr Gough to have reached the right answers on most of the important issues and certainly on those concerning the … application”. Lord Justice Keene stated “the allegation against [Mr Gough] of incompetence cannot be held to have been justified.”
Mr Gough will now receive awards of damages and costs from the Court of Appeal, to be determined at a later hearing.
The trial last year also involved two other Bedford Borough Council officers suing Bedfordshire on Sunday and Stewart Lister. One of these, Shaun Field, the Chief Executive, recovered damages totalling £52,500 from the Defendants, part of which resulted from a settlement shortly before trial. Bedfordshire on Sunday and Stewart Lister appealed against the decisions at trial in Mr Field’s favour and that appeal was due to be heard at the same time as Mr Gough’s. The week before the hearing, however, the Defendants abandoned their appeal. The third officer, Andrew Darkoh, a barrister in the legal department at the Council, lost at trial on the same grounds as Mr Gough. Mr Darkoh was granted permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal, but decided not to pursue an appeal for personal reasons.
As a result of the decisions in favour of Mr Gough and Mr Field, it is likely that Bedfordshire on Sunday and Stewart Lister will face legal bills well in excess of £1m.
Michael Gough said: “I am delighted at the outcome of the appeal and that three appeal judges have vindicated me. It has been a long and sometimes exhausting process but it was vital to me to clear my name.”
Mr Gough, Mr Field and Mr Darkoh were represented by Carter-Ruck and by Patrick Moloney QC and David Sherborne of Counsel. The case represents another success for Carter-Ruck’s conditional fee agreement scheme.
Enquiries to Ruth Collard of Carter-Ruck.