Suffolk MP wins damages and apology from Sunday Times over unfounded allegations
PUBLISHED: 10:42 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:10 25 February 2019
Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter has been awarded a six-figure sum at the end of his legal action against The Sunday Times after it published unfounded allegations that he had assaulted three female MPs.
The Sunday Times has agreed to pay Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Poulter substantial damages and costs after he launched legal action against them – and has apologised to him during a short hearing at the High Court in London.
The allegations, published in two articles in The Sunday Times on 5 November 2017, were based on claims made to the newspaper by Andrew Bridgen, a fellow Conservative MP.
The High Court heard a representative of Times Newspapers Limited publicly apologise to Dr Poulter as part of the settlement of his claim for defamation, misuse of private information, breach of confidence and inducement to breach confidence.
One of the articles complained of was written by Mr Bridgen for The Sunday Times: the second was written by The Sunday Times Political Deputy Editor, Caroline Wheeler. The articles falsely alleged that Dr Poulter had put his hand up the skirts of three women MPs.
Hours before publication of the articles, Mr Bridgen took his complaints about what he claimed was Dr Poulter’s conduct to the Conservative Party’s Complaints Panel.
The Panel last year dismissed Mr Bridgen’s complaint, wholly exonerating Dr Poulter. It found that no female MP had ever made any complaint against Dr Poulter and that there was “simply no evidence” to support Mr Bridgen’s claims.
Hannaa Basha, Dr Poulter’s advocate solicitor, read out the statement to the High Court, saying: “The Sunday Times publicly acknowledges that the defamatory allegations it published about Dr Poulter were false and should not have been published. “Accordingly, the parties have now reached an agreement to settle Dr Poulter’s claim on terms which include the removal of the articles from The Sunday Times’ website and Times Newspapers Limited agreeing that it will not republish the same or similar allegations about Dr Poulter in the future.
“The Defendant has agreed to pay substantial damages to Dr Poulter and his legal costs and it has agreed to join in this statement in open court to offer sincere apologies to Dr Poulter on behalf of The Sunday Times.”
Oliver Murphy, who represented Times Newspapers Limited, said: “On behalf of the Defendant, I confirm everything that has been said by my friend (Ms Basha). The Defendant accepts that there is no truth in the allegations published by The Sunday Times.
“The Defendant is here today through me to apologise publicly on behalf of The Sunday Times. The Sunday Times offer their sincere and genuine apologies to Dr Poulter for having published the articles complained of, for the damage these publications caused to his reputation and for the personal distress and embarrassment that their actions have caused him over the past 14 months.”
Dr Poulter was off work for several weeks with a stress-related illness – his work was covered by colleagues and his office staff.
After the court case he said: “This has been a horrendous episode. These utterly unfounded allegations were published against me at a time of enormous frenzy about the supposed misconduct and wrongdoing of various MPs.
“Like many of the lurid claims made against numerous MPs at that time, they have been proved to be entirely without foundation – as I always knew them to be.”
“I am grateful to those who supported me in this action including friends and family, the brilliant legal team at Payne Hicks Beach, 5RB, and at Monk PR. I am delighted now to continue to focus on my work as a hard-working and dedicated MP for the people of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich and as a mental health doctor.”