The Guardian has reported that Peter Cruddas, the former Conservative Party co-treasurer, has been awarded £45,000 in libel damages plus costs from a former aide to Tony Blair.
The action was brought by Cruddas following allegations made in the Sunday Times in March 2012 that he unlawfully solicited donations whilst he was the Conservative Party co-treasurer, a position he resigned in respsonse to the allegations. Mark Adams, who runs the website StandUp4Lobbying, pursued Cruddas in what he described as a “persistent and public campaign” against him, posting 12 tweets and 9 blog posts.
The police and Electoral Commission found no evidence that Cruddas broke the law.
Hearing the claim, Mr Justice Eady described the claims as false and said they “would indeed go to the core of Mr Cruddas’s professional reputation and personal integrity”. In making a damages award of £45,000 he noted, “A significant number of readers who were interested in following the subject, at least those who are fair minded, will have come to recognise some months ago that Mr Adams’s charges were actually just silly and not, after all, to be taken seriously.” In spite of this concession, Eady made a further award for costs in the sum of £40,000, which will later be reassessed and potentially rise to £120,000.
Cruddas settled a similar case against the Independent in November 2012. The continuing action against the Sunday Times comes to trial in June.
It is interesting that Justice Eady considered how the online allegations might be viewed by others and the actual consequences that followed, making a distinction between the serious and the “silly”. Had the action been in the criminal rather than the civil courts, the nature and intent of the allegations would most likely have been accorded more weight, as suggested in the interim DPP Guidelines.