A tweet by the wife of the British parliament's speaker about a senior Conservative politician in the wake of reports of child sex abuse was libellous, the High Court in London ruled today.
Sally Bercow said she was "surprised and disappointed" by the judgement, but a lawyer for Lord Alistair McAlpine said it should serve as "a warning to, and guidance for, people who use social media." Bercow, the wife of House of Commons speaker John Bercow, wrote on Twitter: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*" two days after a BBC TV report last year wrongly implicated an unnamed leading Conservative in allegations of sex abuse at a children's home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.
She denied that the tweet was defamatory but lawyers for the former Conservative Party treasurer said it pointed "the finger of blame" at him amid intense speculation about who the report referred to. Bercow said: "To say I'm surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement. However, I will accept the ruling as the end of the matter. "I remain sorry for the distress I have caused Lord McAlpine and I repeat my apologies. I have accepted an earlier offer his lawyers made to settle this matter."
McAlpine's lawyer Andrew Reid said the ruling "provides both a warning to, and guidance for, people who use social media." "The apologies previously received from
Mrs Bercow did not concede that her tweet was defamatory. Clearly she must now accept this fact," he added. "The failure of Mrs Bercow to admit that her tweet was defamatory caused considerable unnecessary pain and suffering to Lord McAlpine and his family over the past six months." A hearing will be held at a later date to determine damages. McAlpine has already received six-figure payouts from the BBC and Britain's ITV network.