Paddy French ‘withdraws’ from John Ware libel case but trial will continue

Press Gang website editor and former television producer Paddy French has said he has ‘stepped back’ from the case in which BBC Panorama journalist John Ware is suing him for defamation.

Ware is seeking £50,000 in damages over a pamphlet published by Press Gang in 2019 about a Panorama program focusing on anti-Semitism within the Labor Party, which the pamphlet describes as “rogue journalism”.

French (pictured) planned to defend the case using both truth and public interest defences. However, he withdrew the defense of truth this summer. He also no longer had legal representation, meaning he would have had to represent himself at trial.

He has raised around £94,000, including through two crowdfunding pages since Ware launched the case, but told the Press Gazette most of it was gobbled up by legal fees. One of the main donors was Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, who himself witnessed recent controversy over his comments on the Russian war in Ukraine.

French said in a statement on Friday, “I have decided to withdraw from the case and will no longer participate in the proceedings.”

That was partly, he said, because a High Court judge ruled in Ware’s favor at a preliminary hearing last year. Judge Saini found French’s article implicated Ware as a “rogue journalist who engaged in dirty tricks aimed at damaging Labor’s chances of winning the general election by writing and presenting an edition of Panorama in which he presented a biased and knowingly misrepresentation of the extent and nature of anti-Semitism within the party, deliberately ignoring evidence to the contrary.” The judge added that accusing a journalist of this behavior was “clearly defamatory in common law”.

French said on Friday, “That was not my intention – my concern was about the quality of journalism.”

French had also seen the case as ‘an opportunity for a forensic examination of anti-Semitism within the Labor Party when Jeremy Corbyn was leader’ but said it was no longer relevant following several recent publications. on the party, including the Forde report on allegations of bullying, racism and sexism.

French said: “These developments mean that Ware v French has become less and less relevant.”

French did not know how the case would play out after his withdrawal.

But Patron Law’s Mark Lewis, representing Ware, told the Press Gazette the trial would still begin on Monday November 7 as scheduled. It was expected to take four days, although recent events may change that.

Lewis said: “It would not be appropriate to comment as the trial is about to begin. There is no recognizable legal concept of a defendant unilaterally withdrawing from a case.

“As the trial shows, Mr. French’s descriptions of the timeline of his actions and his decision to ‘step down’ do not stand up to scrutiny.”

Lewis is a media law veteran, with high-profile cases including celebrity phone-hacking cases against News of the World, winning food blogger Jack Monroe’s Twitter libel case against commentator Katie Hopkins and advising the money-saving expert Martin Lewis in his defamation. fight against fraudulent ads on Facebook using his name.

Ware maintained that French’s allegations were “intrinsically serious” and caused “tremendous upheaval and damage” to his professional reputation as a journalist.

The article, titled “Political storm rages over BBC ‘rogue’ journalism”, was published on the Press Gang website and in the free online magazine Cold Type. The printed pamphlet containing it was sent to figures from the BBC, Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun on Sunday, according to case documents .

Ware has already successfully received substantial damages and an apology from Labor after falsely accusing him of “deliberate and malicious statements designed to mislead the public” on the Panorama programme. He also settled a case brought against Jewish Voice for Labor after his media manager told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show that the journalist behind the Panorama show “has a terrible record of Islamophobia and far-right politics”.

Picture: Paddy French

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