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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Police pay reporter damages
Donal MacIntyre
Donal MacIntyre outside court on Tuesday
BBC journalist Donal MacIntyre has been given 15,000 damages and an apology from Kent Police in an out-of court settlement of a libel action against the force.

Kent Police issued an "unreserved apology" and agreed to pay the damages and legal costs - estimated to reach about 650,000 - to the reporter and the BBC.


This programme was very important to me as it gave a voice to some of the most vulnerable people in society

Donal MacIntyre

It is believed to be the first time a libel action against a police force has succeeded.

The reporter said he was delighted to have been vindicated after he sued the force over remarks made about his investigation into poor standards at a Kent care home.

In a statement made at the High Court on Tuesday the police withdrew the unjustified comments and agreed not to repeat them.

The Brompton care home in Gillingham was shut down by social services after an episode of BBC One's MacIntyre Undercover in November 1999.

The reporter has chosen to donate the "substantial" damages agreed with the police to two charities for people with learning difficulties, the BBC said.

The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas said legal costs were believed to be 650,000 while police confirmed damages of 15,000 would be paid to Mr MacIntyre.

Viewer confidence

The writ named Chief Constable Sir David Phillips, chief press officer Mark Pugash, and the then Detective Inspector Mick Costello, who led the investigation into MacIntyre's claims.

Sir David Phillips
Sir David Phillips was named in the writ

Speaking outside court, Mr MacIntyre welcomed the decision.

He said: "Kent Police today acknowledged that the Brompton care home programme gave a fair and accurate impression of life there and exposed distressing and unacceptable behaviour by some members of staff.

"This programme was very important to me as it gave a voice to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

"People with learning difficulties have a right to quality care and protection, free from abuse, and I am delighted that we have been completely vindicated."

The reporter began his libel action two years ago claiming comments made by the police were "misleading" and had damaged his reputation as a journalist.

The BBC's director of television, Jana Bennett, said: "It was important public confidence in the disturbing findings of this programme was not undermined by the unwarranted and unjustified police comments made after the broadcast."

Landmark case

Mr MacIntyre's solicitor Nick Armstrong said the outcome was a "ringing endorsement" for the BBC team's approach.

Mr MacIntyre said the programme uncovered "a culture of neglect which experts in the field - as well as BBC viewers - found shocking and unacceptable".

Police investigated the allegations against the care home and two people were cautioned for minor assaults.

But later the Kent force threatened to sue the reporter for the 50,000 it had spent on the inquiry.

Following Tuesday's settlement, deputy chief constable Robert Ayling said: "The force accepts that the programme served the public interest by revealing serious shortcomings in the way the home was run".

He continued: "We were concerned that spending public money on a costly legal action was irresponsible and we sought an alternative to going to court.

"We are grateful to Mr MacIntyre for accepting our apology and approve of his decision to pay the agreed 15,000 damages to a charity supporting people with learning difficulties."

After the MacIntyre Undercover programme was broadcast on 16 November 1999 four other homes were also shut down.

It also led to the tightening of care regulations.

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 ON THIS STORY
Donal McIntyre
"This will demonstrate that all people with learning difficutlies are equal before the law"
Nick Armstrong, Donal McIntyre's solicitor
"They strayed beyond commenting on the results of their investigation"

Click here to go to Kent
See also:

08 Oct 02 | Entertainment
23 Oct 00 | Entertainment
30 Jun 00 | UK
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