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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Could Major's infidelity land him in court?
John Major
John Major won his libel action against two publications
John Major's libel victory over two publications which accused him in the 1980s of having an extra-marital affair will now be raked over in the light of Edwina Currie's revelations.

Could the New Statesman and Scallywag magazines have a case to reclaim damages?


Overturning a libel settlement - whether or not the case went to court - is not easily achieved.

Indeed, the only recognised grounds for doing so is to establish it was obtained by fraud and perjury.

This is what lay behind the unprecedented settlement under which the disgraced peer, Lord Archer, will pay back around 1.8m to the owners of the Daily Star, 15 years after winning a libel trial in which he lied to the High Court.

The Star's lawyers, Lovells, and their defamation specialist, Jennifer McDermott, said the John Major case was significantly different.

John and Norma Major
Was there a statement swearing Mr Major's fidelity?
She said: "It did not go to court so there was no question of anyone lying on oath in the witness box."

"The only thing one can say with certainty is that the publications, Scallywag and New Statesman, would have had strong grounds for reducing the amount of damages if they had known of John Major's previous infidelity. "

That opinion is borne out by the decision of Sport Newspapers Ltd, owners of the now defunct Scallywag, to seek 50,000 from Mr Major, which it claims it paid to settle the libel action.

Contempt

Although that action never went to trial, Mr Major may have been asked to provide a written affidavit.

If this included the statement that he had always been faithful to his wife, then it would have constituted a contempt and this could be one area which the lawyers, Price & Co, are re-examining, in the light of the Edwina Currie revelations.


I don't doubt that the two publications would have mounted a robust defence if they had known of Major's affair with Currie

James Libson
Defamation lawyer
The case against Scallywag and New Statesman was settled very speedily so it may never have got as far as an interlocutory ( pre-trial ) application for disclosure by the defendants.

But again, if they asked for information about Mr Major's character and past behaviour which has subsequently turned out to be false, there may be grounds for returning to court.

In a number of respects, the libel rules are rather more friendly to the media than they were in 1993.

Robust defence

But even then, under the 1952 Defamation Act, if you made an allegation which was false but were able to prove a more serious one, you were, effectively "home and dry".

Defamation lawyer, James Libson, said: "In that sense I don't doubt that the two publications would have mounted a robust defence if they had known of Major's affair with Currie."

As a footnote, it is worth mentioning that Mrs Currie herself may be hoping the legal archives are not re-opened.

Edwina Currie
Ms Currie could also face legal troubles
In 1991 she won 5,000 in damages from The Observer, after actress Charlotte Rampling compared her character in the film Paris by Night to Mrs Currie.

The character, Clara Paige, was a "thrusting, sexy and ambitious Euro MP" who drove her husband to despair, ignored her son, had a young lover, and killed to safeguard her career.

The hearing was told that Mrs Currie wrote to the newspaper saying: "I have been married (once) for 17 years and I do not have a youngish lover."

Her then husband, Ray, also gave evidence about their marriage.

Although The Observer has said it will not seek to recover the money, it must be wondering whether the case would have gone the plaintiff's way, if her diaries had been published at that time.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The Guardian's Simon Hoggart
"The magical ingredients in these liaisons are politics and power"
Former press secretary to John Major, Sheila Gunn
"I think she's demeaning herself"

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29 Sep 02 | Politics
30 Sep 02 | Politics
19 Jul 01 | UK
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