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1989: Yorkshire Ripper's wife wins damages
A jury at the High Court in London has awarded 600,000 damages to Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, against the satirical magazine Private Eye.

The award is 100,000 more than the previous record British libel sum.

Mrs Sutcliffe, who is legally separated from her husband, made no comment. She left the court shrouded in a blanket.

If that's justice, then I'm a banana
Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye
She will get 25,000 of the award immediately and the rest pending the appeal which will be lodged straightaway by Private Eye.

Its editor, Ian Hislop, said the magazine may go out of business and will be appealing to the magazine's readers for financial assistance.

He pointed out the award was 100 times larger than that awarded to three of Sutcliffe's victims.

On the steps of the court he said: "If that's justice, then I'm a banana."

In 1981 Sutcliffe was jailed for life for killing 13 women. When he was first arrested and charged, Private Eye accused Mrs Sutcliffe of doing a deal with the Daily Mail worth 250,000.

They said there had been a squalid race to buy her story and claimed she had negotiated with the press to profit from her fame as the wife of a serial killer.

Mrs Sutcliffe's defence lawyers said she had done no such deal because she did not want to capitalise on what her husband had done.

She had been plunged into a living nightmare of media attention but had rejected all financial offers even though they could have given her a new life.

Famous libel lawyer Peter Carter-Ruck said the award was disproportionate and called for the libel laws to be changed. He said juries should be guided by the judge on the sums they award.

Two years ago the former Conservative MP Jeffrey Archer was awarded 500,000 from the Daily Star over allegations that he slept with a prostitute.

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Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, was furious at the size of the award

In Context
The damages were later reduced to 60,000 on appeal.

As for Jeffrey - now Lord - Archer, he was jailed for four years in July 2001 after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice and lying in his 1987 libel trial against the Daily Star and News of the World newspapers.

He has agreed to pay more than 1.8m in damages, costs and interest.

Huge awards granted to libel defendants were common in the late 1980s. Although libel law has not been reformed on paper, in practice, damages awarded these days are much more realistic. Those that are regarded as excessive are usually reduced on appeal.

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