I’d pretty much forgotten all about Lord McAlpine, and the accusations of child sex abuse made about him, first on the BBC and ITV (who later apologised and coughed up a hefty sum of money in damages, even though they hadn’t named him), then on Twitter, where several people named him (though, in many cases, didn’t repeat the accusation).
I doubt if there are many people, on hearing the name “McAlpine”, associate it with the accusations that were made but, instead, remember that the BBC had to pay him a pile of dosh.
McAlpine, today, announced that he “would like to now draw this unfortunate episode, forced into my life, to a close” by dropping legal actions against any Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers who had named him, or had re-tweeted those who had, in return for a £25 donation to Children in Need.
Instead, he’s going to concentrate on suing Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. She tweeted “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*“, and later, after McAlpine threatened to sue, “I guess I’d better get some legal advice then. Still maintain was not a libellous tweet — just foolish.”
If he really wanted to draw a line under the matter, he’d quietly drop all the cases, regardless of how many Twitter followers they had, not carry on with the one person who is guaranteed to keep the story in the news.
Keeping it in the news could be a bigger problem for McAlpine than the original story. Many people are aware of high profile public figures taking, or threatening, legal action in order to silence their critics. Robert Maxwell was a prolific litigant, as any fule who reads Private Eye should know. More recently, it has emerged that Jimmy Savile threatened to sue anyone who considered complaining about his criminal activities.
I don’t mean, of course, that threatening libel action makes McAlpine guilty after all, but more headlines will follow, so more people will notice the story, and more people will add 2 and 2 and get 5. After all, there are precedents of wrongdoers protesting too much, and McAlpine risks being lumped in with them.
- Lord McAlpine drops some Twitter defamation cases (guardian.co.uk)
- More: Lord McAlpine says he has instructed lawyers to focus on claim against Sally Bercow, wife of top UK MP – @itvnews (itv.com)
- Why Is Toady Trending? *snarlyface* (BBC Question Time “Down-The-Pub”)