LONDON: Senior Conservative Party politician Lord Mohamed Iltaf Sheikh has won a defamation case against Associated Newspapers Limited, publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail Online.
The case pertained to an article published in August 2018 accusing him of appearing at a “hate conference” held in Tunisia with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for hosting in the House of Lords the well-known Pakistani religious leader Muhammad Hassam Haseeb-ur-Rehman, as well as allegedly supporting a Hamas leader.
The article titled “EXCLUSIVE: Top Tory peer’s appearance at Corbyn’s ‘hate conference’ in Tunisia comes after YEARS of rubbing shoulders with Islamists, hate preachers and Holocaust deniers” accused Lord Sheikh of mixing with extremist, Holocaust deniers and hate preachers and focused on his attendance at a conference in Tunisia in 2014 where it had earlier been widely reported that Jeremy Corbyn had participated in a wreath-laying ceremony.
In the same article, Mail Online referred to a meeting which Lord Sheikh hosted in the House of Lords for the well-known Pakistani Sunni leader Muhammad Hassam Haseeb-ur-Rehman. This was a multi-faith Conference to promote harmony between people and was attended by the Bishop of Birmingham, another Member of the House of Lords, First secretary at the US Embassy in London, leading Councillors and other dignitaries.
Lord Sheikh initiated his libel claim against Associated Newspapers soon after the article was published and his lawyer informed the court that Lord Sheikh had in fact been invited to speak at the Tunisian conference, which was held a short time after hostilities between Israel and Gaza resulted in over 2,000 deaths.
The lawyer further told the court that Lord Sheikh in his speech at the conference advocated, consistent with UK government policy, that to achieve a lasting peace, a two-state solution should provide security for the state of Israel and also respect for the rights of the Palestinian people.
It has now been determined by the Royal Court of Justice in London that the article published by the Mail Online was highly defamatory in its nature.
The Associated Newspapers Ltd initially defended the claims made in the defamatory article but this week accepted that the serious allegations it published were untrue and agreed not to repeat them and further to pay a substantial sum of damages to Lord Sheikh as well as his legal costs. The court was told by a barrister acting for Associated Newspapers that “there was and is no truth in the allegations advanced in the article” and that it was “happy to set the record straight and apologise to the claimant.”
The statement read out in the Court by Lord Sheikh’s solicitor contains the following paragraph. “Mr Justice Warby in a judgment dated 4 November 2019 ruled that the article would be understood by readers to allege that the claimant has a long history of support for, or close association with, people and organisations that express or hold anti-Semitic and other extremist views and attitudes which, despite his attempts to explain it, 1 – provides strong grounds for suspecting that he is secretly an anti-Semite who approves of and sympathises with Holocaust denial, Islamist jihad and hate-preaching, which he is prepared knowingly and actively to support; 2 -is shocking and disturbing”.
Speaking to The News, Lord Sheikh, who was appointed as a life peer in 2006, expressed his happiness and said that it was never his aim to win any money.
“Both before and since I entered the House of Lords, I have consistently sought to promote inter-racial and inter-faith understanding, tolerance and respect. To find myself accused by a newspaper of the very conduct which I have always opposed was profoundly hurtful.
“I am delighted to have been able finally to clear my name from these shocking and unfounded allegations, and thank my legal team for their constant support in what for me has been a very difficult and distressing time. I never wanted to make any money out of this claim but to set the record straight,” he said.
Lord Sheikh said he has known Haseeb-ur-Rehman and he respected him for promoting education, welfare of people and inter-faith dialogue.
The Conservative leader said he has repeatedly spoken out against anti-Semitism and radicalisation and has produced papers on the latter but the paper chose to target him.
In the defamatory article it was stated that two Conservative MPs Robert Halfon and Zac Goldsmith had demanded an investigation into Lord Sheikh’s presence at the “hate-filled” event.
Appearing before Judge Warby, Lord Sheikh’s lawyer informed that MPs Robert Halfon and Zac Goldsmith had made a complaint to the Conservative Party which was considered and unequivocally dismissed in November 2018 by the party’s independent Code of Conduct panel but the paper neither removed the article from its website nor reported to its readers that Lord Sheikh had been cleared by his own party regarding the complaint made by his own party MPs.
After months of litigation, Daily Mail through its solicitors notified Lord Sheikh that the article which is the subject of these proceedings had finally been taken offline, and put forward an offer of amends to publish a correction and apology and to pay the Claimant compensation.
Associated Newspapers Ltd’s lawyer told the judge: “My Lord, on behalf of the Defendant, I confirm everything my learned Friend has said. The Defendant through me offers its sincere apologies to the Claimant for the distress, embarrassment and upset caused to him by the publication of the Article. The Defendant accepts there was and is no truth in the allegations advanced in the Article and is happy to set the record straight and apologise to the Claimant.”
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