The Metropolitan Police is likely to face a libel trial, says solicitor Mark Lewis who has played a leading role in the phone hacking scandal that has already brought down the prime minister’s communications director. Lewis is suing the police, claiming that they accused him of lying to parliament when they rubbished evidence he gave to a House of Commons select committee.
The Press Complaints Commission and its chair, Baroness Buscombe, were also named in the action but have since settled, agreeing to pay Lewis £20,000 in damages. Buscombe and the PCC had relied on information supplied by the police.
Today the High Court threw out an attempt to block the action, paving the way for an embarrassing public trial. The Metropolitan Police attempted to persuade the court that Lewis’s action was an abuse of process and that, in any case, they were protected by qualified privilege (that is, they were obliged to respond to the PCC in the way that they did). Mr Justice Tugendhat disagreed on both counts. Further he agreed that the police statement to the PCC could be taken to mean that Lewis had lied to parliament and that any trial would also be able to consider whether the statement was made with malice. Should Lewis’s action succeed, the clear implication would be that elements within the Metropolitan Police have been attempting to cover up the true extent of illegal phone hacking conducted by News International newspapers.
Coincidently, the ruling came on the same day that it emerged that Rebecca Brooks, chief executive of News International, is to appear before parliament to provide further information regarding the bribing of police officers. She had previously admitted paying police officers for stories, which is always illegal, while editor of the Sun.
Mark Lewis has indicated to this blogger that a settlement would be very hard to achieve as the Metropolitan Police would be required to admit that a police officer had lied.
Download the judgement of the High Court