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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
What Polanski's victory cost him

By Torin Douglas
BBC News media correspondent

Roman Polanski
Mr Polanski was forced to discuss the allegations in detail
It was risky, some said foolhardy, for Roman Polanski to bring this case, given his lurid past - but that decision has been vindicated by the jury's verdict to award him 50,000 damages.

Mr Polanski couldn't even set foot in the courtroom, for fear he would be extradited to the United States to face jail for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

He had pleaded guilty to the offence and then fled the country, which meant he had to give evidence via video link from Paris, where he's lived for the past 27 years.

He knew this and other incidents from his past would be a gift to the Vanity Fair lawyers.

Thomas Shields QC told the jury the key to the case was "Roman's law of morality" which he said "readily excused violations of civilised conduct".

Drawing attention

Not only had the director fled justice, he had admitted to numerous incidents of casual sex, sometimes with more than one woman, including a 15-year-old girl. He had also admitted often being unfaithful to his late wife, actress Sharon Tate.

Mr Shields claimed the Polish film director had no reputation to lose and that even if the jury accepted the article was libellous, they should award him nominal and symbolic damages - he suggested a cinema ticket or a Eurostar ticket, which Mr Polanski could have used to appear in front of them in person.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski
Sharon Tate (left) was murdered in 1968
Mr Polanski must also have known he was drawing much more attention to the magazine's claims than they'd received when first published.

In 2002, relatively few people would have noticed the claim that Mr Polanski had made sexual advances to a beautiful Scandinavian woman in a New York restaurant while on his way to his wife's funeral.

By bringing the case, he exposed to the British public the full lurid details of the story, including the suggestion he had told the woman "I will make another Sharon Tate out of you" just days after his wife, eight months pregnant with their first child, had been murdered in one of the most famous crimes of the 20th Century.

So why did he bring the action?

'Monstrous conduct'

Mr Polanski had proof the article was wrong. He had been in London when his wife was murdered and had flown straight to Los Angeles, so he couldn't have been in the New York restaurant on the way to his wife's burial.

He had documents to prove this and eventually Vanity Fair and its witnesses conceded the point. But the magazine persisted with its defence, claiming the story was wrong only in its timing.

Mr Polanski believed the story was the worst thing ever written about him, despite his well-known past. He said it was an allegation of monstrous conduct and callous indifference to his wife's memory.

He found it particularly hurtful because it dishonoured his memory of his wife. And since the magazine wouldn't apologise, the libel action was his only form of redress.

He now stands vindicated by the legal system - but the question remains as to what the case has done to his reputation.

Like so many stars who have found themselves in the libel courts, he must await the verdict of the newspapers and their columnists - and those do not always coincide with that of the jurors.




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