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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Soldiers lose sex libel case
British troops in the Gulf
The couple were on an exercise in the desert
Two soldiers are facing bankruptcy after losing a High Court libel action over claims they had an affair during an Army exercise in the desert.

Sarah Pedder and father-of-two Al Dummer were suing over two articles that appeared in the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail in February 2002.

Associated Newspapers denied libel and pleaded a defence of justification.

The Leicester couple, who are now married to each other, must pay the newspapers' costs bill, estimated at up to £500,000.

Their solicitor, John Mackenzie, told Mr Justice Gray in London the allegations the soldiers had had a sexual relationship in Oman were "wholly untrue and very offensive".

The picture painted was of two people who just did not give a damn - all they were concerned about was the sexual relationship between the two of them
John Mackenzie

It was claimed they had paid frequent visits to each other's tents and driven off on motorbikes together while taking part in Operation Swift Sword in 2001 with the Royal Corps of Signals.

"The picture painted was of two people who just did not give a damn - all they were concerned about was the sexual relationship between the two of them," Mr Mackenzie said.

The soldiers alleged press coverage had resulted in Captain Pedder being "thrown out" of the Army and Sergeant Dummer being demoted to corporal after 20 years' service.

But Bernard Livesey QC, for Associated Newspapers, said they had breached the Army Code, which emphasised the need for selfless commitment and frowned on relationships between officers and non-officers.

Physical contact

Ms Pedder, who was second-in-command of 261 Squadron, told the court she had left Oman in June 2001, two months into the six-month exercise, to marry fiancé Henry, whom she had known for six years.

But after she returned in July, her relationship with Sgt Dummer had become "emotional and closer". He had called her "Mam". She had called him "Staff".

Ms Pedder agreed they had once spent the night in a Land Rover in Oman but said she had been on a camp bed in the back with Sgt Dummer stretched across the front seats.

The couple said they had had a good working relationship but denied they had had any physical contact until Sgt Dummer put his arm around Capt Pedder and kissed her cheek on the morning after their return to the UK.

We are delighted with this terrific result for the newspapers, which vindicates the whole team's confidence in the original stories and the evidence supporting them
Kirsty Watt

Two days later they had agreed to leave their partners but had not had sex until a fortnight after their return, they added.

Mr Dummer, 39, who left the Army in January, grimaced at the jury's unanimous verdict, which came after a two-week trial.

Ms Pedder, 28, who is training to be a solicitor, showed no emotion.

Mr Mackenzie, who acted for the couple on a conditional "no win, no fee" basis, said: "We are very disappointed with the result. We will not be appealing."

Kirsty Watt, of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, the law firm representing the papers, said: "We are delighted with this terrific result for the newspapers, which vindicates the whole team's confidence in the original stories and the evidence supporting them."




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