As Zelo Street regulars will know, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, along with his colleagues editor emeritus Peter Wright and head of legal Liz Hartley, had threatened a libel action against Byline Media for saying - correctly - that the Mail and its Sunday sister title had used the services of Steve Whittamore of Operation Motorman infamy for some years after he was busted by the Information Commissioner.
If that f***er from Crewe uses my photo again, I'll sue the c***
The three, through their reassuringly expensive lawyers, had issued a Letter Before Action, and made it clear that unless their bullying demands were complied with in full, Byline would find itself dragged before the courts. But after Byline’s lawyers responded robustly to the threats, nothing happened. A week passed. Then another. Had the inmates of the Northcliffe House bunker lost their nerve? And then came the follow-up letter.
And a more lame and humiliating climbdown it would be hard to imagine: as with all bullies, when subjected to forthright challenge, Dacre and his pals have effectively turned tail and run away. A perusal of their latest letter tells you all you need to know.
They begin “We do not accept the arguments you make. The meaning of Byline’s articles is quite clear - it is that Byline is accusing our clients of deliberate suppression of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry”.
No it isn’t: no such accusation was made. But good to have the Achilles heel pointed out. Do go on.
“Furthermore there is no public interest defence in circumstances in which Byline says it never intended to convey the meaning the articles obviously bear: Byline cannot therefore argue that it had any reasonable belief in the truth of what it published. Nor did Byline put that allegation to our clients (and did not put any allegations at all to Liz Hartley)”.
The articles don’t obviously bear any such meaning; there is none there.
(c) Martin Rowson and Byline Media 2017
Then, after that initial flourish of bravura and bluster, comes the climbdown.
“However we note that Byline has published our clients' Letter of Claim of 13 March 2017, which sets out the evidence which demonstrates that Byline’s allegations are untrue”. If there were a scrap of evidence, they would willingly test it in court. They won’t. Because there isn’t.
And the latest demands? This is where it becomes truly laughable: “Our clients are therefore prepared to settle their claim if your client will give the following undertakings”. Yes? Yes yes? Yes yes yes?
“1. To continue to publish, with equal prominence to your client's original articles, and without amendment, our clients' Letter of Claim of 13 March”.
NO ACTION REQUIRED.
“2. To continue to publish, in the same position, same font and same red box, the statement currently published at the top of the articles originally published on 3rd, 4th and 7th March. With the first paragraph of that statement to remain unaltered and the second, third and fourth paragraphs to be deleted and replaced with a link to our clients’ letter of 13 March”.
VERY LITTLE ACTION REQUIRED.
“3. Not to repeat in further articles the allegations made in the articles that our clients deliberately suppressed evidence to the Leveson Inquiry”.
THEY DIDN’T MAKE THAT ALLEGATION IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Hur de Durly Murl an de turtal chucky
Is that it? Here’s your answer: “If Byline agrees to this course of action our clients are prepared to waive any claim to damages or costs. Meanwhile they reserve all their rights”.
Ho yus. Shove your rights, O Vagina Monologue.
Let’s be clear what this means: Paul Dacre and his pals tried to silence Byline Media and implied that they were serious about taking them to court for libel. Then, after a robust rebuttal of their claim, they have come whimpering back with what is effectively a non-demand for a non-correction with a non-apology.
The might of Northcliffe House has fallen at the first hurdle. Their attempt to silence Byline and by doing so to chill free speech has proved futile. Martin Rowson’s cartoon has proved prophetic: David has once again slain Goliath.
Paul Dacre, Peter Wright and Liz Hartley should count themselves lucky that they are not now being referred to the precedent legal case of Arkell v Pressdram.