Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail, has apologised in the High Court to Tom Watson MP, over false allegations that he was copied in on emails exchanged between Damian McBride and Derek Draper in which they were reported to have discussed serious and false allegations concerning the private lives of various Conservative Party MPs. The Mail accepted its allegations were untrue and has paid substantial damages to Mr Watson.

Statement in Open Court

Tom Watson and Associated Newspapers Limited

Solicitor for the Claimant
My Lord, I appear on behalf of the Claimant, Tom Watson, MP. My friend Adam Cannon appears on behalf of the Defendant, Associated Newspapers Limited, the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail.

Since first being elected in June 2001 as Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East, Mr Watson has served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, and in January 2008 was appointed Cabinet Office Minister, with responsibility for issues concerning the Civil Service.

On 12 April 2009, the Defendant published an article in the Mail on Sunday by Iain Dale headed “Smears, glowering henchmen – like the Nixon White House”. The article referred to the resignation of the Downing Street press adviser, Damian McBride, following the revelation that he had sent emails to a Labour Party activist, Derek Draper, which were reported to have made serious and false allegations about the private lives of a number of Conservative Party MPs in the course of discussing the possibility of setting up a new website to be known as “Red Rag”. In the article of which the Claimant complains, the author stated that he understood that “all McBride’s emails to Derek Draper were copied to Watson.” The article went on to say “What action did Watson take? Did he tell him to stop it? Far from it – he encouraged it…”

These allegations are entirely untrue. In fact, the Claimant was not copied in on any of the emails between Mr McBride and Mr Draper. As soon as he was aware that he had been named as a recipient, the Claimant issued a press release making it clear that the first he knew of the matter was on Friday 10 April, when the emails were first drawn by the media to the attention of Downing Street. His press release made it plain that he had no involvement in or knowledge of the “Red Rag” website and that, far from encouraging it, he did not condone the content of the emails and, indeed, regarded them as “completely inappropriate”.

The false allegations published by the Defendant, compounded by repeated suggestions in subsequent articles in the Daily Mail that his denial of any involvement was open to question, have caused the Claimant acute distress, humiliation and embarrassment. Not only was his political career put in jeopardy, but he and his family were exposed to public condemnation and ridicule.

In recognition of the damage caused by the publication of these false allegations, the Defendant has agreed, through its solicitor today, to apologise to the Claimant and to undertake not to repeat the same or similar allegations. The Defendant has agreed to pay a substantial sum in damages and the Claimant’s legal costs. On this basis, the Claimant is prepared to let the matter rest.

Solicitor for the Defendant
My Lord, I accept everything my friend has said. The Defendant unreservedly withdraws the allegations in question and apologises to the Claimant for the damage these allegations have caused.

Solicitor for the Claimant
My Lord, in all the circumstances, the Claimant’s object in bringing these proceedings has been achieved.

Claire Gill – Carter-Ruck
on behalf of the Claimant

Adam Cannon
on behalf of the Defendant

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