Labour MPs Win Libel Damages

6 February 2017, 17:10 | Updated: 6 February 2017, 17:12

Rotherham signs

Rotherham's three Labour MPs have each won £54,000 damages from a Ukip politician over remarks she made about the town's child abuse scandal.

Sir Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, John Healey, who represents Wentworth and Dearne, and Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, sued Jane Collins, MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire for libel and slander.

The case was sparked by a speech she gave at Ukip's conference in September 2014 - a month after a report found about 1,400 children in the area had been abused between 1997 and 2013.

Mr Justice Warby said she had alleged that each of the MPs knew many of the details of the exploitation yet deliberately chose not to intervene.

She had also expressed the opinion that they acted out of political correctness, political cowardice or political selfishness and were guilty of misconduct so grave that it was or should be criminal, as it aided the perpetrators.

The judge assessed the compensation at London's High Court on Monday.

Gavin Millar QC told the judge that the allegations were the "talk of the tearoom'' in Parliament in the run-up to the general election, and caused "extreme distress''.

Ms Collins refused to withdraw them throughout the whole of the campaign, had not apologised and had repeatedly tried to delay the litigation.

She made an offer of amends which was accepted - but the amount of compensation could not be agreed so had to come back to court.

Ms Collins had argued that it was a political speech which did not contain any allegation of fact, but expressed an opinion to the effect that the MPs were likely to have known that sexual exploitation was a serious problem in the area.

The hearing is continuing to decide costs and other matters.

The judge said that all three MPs found the experience "genuinely and significantly distressing''.

He said: "They felt that their careers were at stake, and that their integrity was under serious attack.

"The allegation not only imputed serious wrongdoing which any reasonable person would deplore but attacked a core attribute of an MP - tending to undermine the trust and confidence that constituents would expect their representatives to deserve.''

The speech was made to a packed conference hall and widely disseminated outside.

The award of £54,000 for defamation in each case was composed of £45,000 for libel and £9,000 for slander.

Ms Collins, who faces an estimated costs bill of £196,000, was ordered to make an interim payment of £120,000.

That sum plus the total of £162,000 damages must be paid within 21 days.

She was refused permission to appeal in the case although she can renew her application to the Court of Appeal.

The MPs said in a joint statement: "Today's judgment at last brings to an end a process to clear our names which has gone on for over two years, delayed and dragged out time again by Jane Collins' repeated attempts to evade justice.

"She has run out of places to hide and today the judge said in no uncertain terms that her behaviour since proceedings began has been unreasonable and offensive.

"The judge has also noted the impact on each claimant's reputation was seriously harmful, and each suffered substantial distress as a result of the publication complained of, from the repetition of its gist or sting, and from the cascade of hostile social media response.

"Ms Collins could have admitted her mistake, withdrawn her remarks and apologised to us.

"Instead, she tried every trick in the book, including the absurd irony of trying, and failing, to seek immunity by hiding behind the EU institutions she is so keen for us to leave behind.

"In this era of so-called 'post truth politics', today's judgment serves as an important reminder that facts matter.

"Victims of vile crimes should never be treated as political pawns by opportunists trying to make electoral gains from their plight.

"Jane Collins' lies have been allowed to run for too long but today the judge has ruled comprehensively against her.

"We're very glad to get the full vindication this judgment gives us against Jane Collins, and we will continue to get on with the important work of standing up for our constituents in parliament.''

Ms Collins said she had no comment to make at the moment.