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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 18:29 GMT
Legal fireworks in Galloway case
By John Andrew
BBC News at the High Court

George Galloway, Independent MP for Glasgow Kelvin
Mr Galloway is suing the Daily Telegraph for libel
What a pity the cameras filming England's first experiment in televising the courts weren't trained on the libel drama in Court 13 of the Royal Courts of Justice.

If they'd been allowed to film witnesses they would have captured the heady mix of law, politics and journalism that make George Galloway's libel battle with the Daily Telegraph such compelling viewing.

You never quite know whose fuse will blow next.

The fireworks began from day one as George Galloway was cross-examined by the Telegraph's counsel James Price QC.

At one point Mr Galloway accused his inquisitor of leaving out part of a vital quote.

"That's known as sharp practice in Parliament," said the MP. "Maybe it's allowed in court too."

Later Mr Price countered by accusing Mr Galloway of "dancing on the head of a pin" over the differences between one story and the headline above it.

George Galloway and Mariam Hamza
Mr Galloway raised money for young Iraqi leukaemia sufferer Mariam Hamza
"It's not a pin or even a nail," declaimed Mr Galloway. "It's a dagger - a sword right through my political heart."

The essence of his libel case is that when a Telegraph reporter phoned him at his home in Portugal to ask him about the documents he only mentioned the Mariam appeal - the campaign Mr Galloway launched to raise money for an Iraqi girl with leukaemia - and did not cover the wider issues reported over six pages of the paper the next day.

He argues the paper should have given him time to see the documents before they "rushed into print" with claims that he was in Saddam's pay.

His counsel also said that the figure of 375,000 he was said to have earned in "Saddam slush money" was a figure worked out by the paper - and not in the document - and in any case denies that either he or the appeal received any money from the regime.

What may be puzzling to the public is that the Telegraph is not claiming that what is in the documents is true. That, it maintains, is for others to find out.

Its argument is that the papers its reporter found in the ruins of Iraq's foreign ministry - and which name Mr Galloway - are genuine documents.

Mr Galloway denies receiving money from Saddam Hussein's regime
It's employing the defence known as "Reynolds Qualified Privilege" - based on a case involving the former Irish premier Albert Reynolds - which argues that a paper has a right to publish damaging or unproven allegations about a public figure if it is in the public interest to do so.

Both leading counsel in the case are experienced lawyers who deploy wit and sarcasm in equal measure.

James Price QC, for the Telegraph, defended the Hello Magazine in its privacy battle with the Hollywood stars Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta Jones.

Richard Rampton QC, for George Galloway, is a veteran of the longest libel trial in British legal history - representing McDonalds in the so-called "McLibel" case.

On Friday, both men will no doubt be in sharp form when they make their closing submissions in the Galloway case.

The judge, Mr Justice Eady, who is sitting without a jury, is then expected to reserve his judgement.

Telegraph defends Galloway story
17 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Galloway denies Saddam 'fawning'
16 Nov 04 |  UK Politics
Galloway cleared on appeal funds
28 Jun 04 |  UK Politics
'I am victim of smear campaign'
23 Apr 04 |  UK Politics
Interview: George Galloway
13 Aug 04 |  UK Politics

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