On 26 June 2013 a Statement in Open Court [pdf] was made in another action against the Daily Mail. Following last week’s Sally Morgan apology, the paper has apologised for an article on its website which falsely linked Britam Defence a risk management and training consultancy, and two of its senior Directors (David Goulding and Philip Doughty) with an alleged plot to carry out a chemical weapons atrocity in Syria. The Daily Mail agreed to pay £110,000 damages, plus legal costs.
The Statement in Open Court was read on Wednesday 26 June 2013 before Mrs Justice Nicola Davies and the Claimants’ solicitors, Carter-Ruck, issued a Press Release [pdf] after the hearing.
The Daily Maily had published an article on 29 January 2013 on its Mail Online website under the headline “U.S. ‘backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria and blame it on Assad’s regime.’” The article focused on internal emails at Britam Defence, which the article said had been hacked from Britam’s computer system and published on the internet. Those emails were said to demonstrate that the American government had approved a covert plot to launch a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could then be blamed on President Assad’s regime.
In particular, the article quoted one email which had purportedly been sent by Mr Goulding to Mr Doughty, in which Mr Goulding outlined a proposal whereby Britam would supply chemical weapons and Ukrainian personnel to Homs for use in the attack.
The article suggested that the claimants were willing, for enormous financial reward, to consider taking part in a nefarious and illegal plot of the kind described, which would have led to the death, injury and maiming of countless innocent civilians.
In fact, the emails in question were forgeries. The emails were not written or sent by the claimants (or by anyone at Britam Defence Limited or anyone associated with them) but were the result of the hacking of Britam Defence’s website. This is the subject of a criminal investigation. The claimants had no involvement in any chemical weapons plot.
The Daily Mail offered its sincere apologies to the Claimants for the damage and distress caused by the publication of these false allegations, which had appeared on US websites. It acknowledges that the emails were completely fabricated and that there was no question of any of the claimants being involved in the heinous actions to which the article referred.
The full background is not clear from the Statement in Open Court. It appears that the Mail Online repeated allegations about the claimants which had circulated on US websites and were based on the forged emails. It seems unlikely that the Daily Mail checked the position with the claimants before publication – because, if they had done so, they would have been told that the emails were forgeries.