The UKIP MEP Jane Collins must pay a total of £162,000 in damages to Rotherham’s three Labour MPs over remarks she made about the town’s child abuse scandal, a judge decided today ( EWHC 162 (QB)).
Ms Collins, MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, also faces a costs bill of £196,000 after the long-running litigation came to an end at the
Mr Justice Warby also ordered he to make an interim payment of £120,000 costs plus the damages within 21 days.
Sir Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, John Healey, who represents Wentworth and Dearne, and Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, sued Ms Collins for for libel and slander over a speech she gave at UKIP’s conference in September 2014 – a month after a report found that about 1,400 children in the area had been abused between 1997 and 2013.
The judge said she alleged that each of the MPs knew many of the details of the exploitation yet deliberately chose not to intervene.
She also expressed the opinion that they acted out of political correctness, political cowardice or political selfishness and were guilty of misconduct so grave that it was or should be criminal, as it aided the perpetrators.
He heard from lawyers for the MPs that the allegations were the “talk of the tearoom” in Parliament in the run-up to the general election.
Ms Collins refused to withdraw them throughout the whole of the campaign, had not apologised and repeatedly tried to delay the case.
She made an offer of amends which was accepted – but the amount of compensation could not be agreed so had to be assessed.
The judge said that all three MPs found the experience “genuinely and significantly distressing”. He said: “They felt that their careers were at stake and that their integrity was under serious attack.”
The speech was made to a packed conference hall and widely disseminated outside, he added.
The award of £54,000 to each MP comprised £45,000 for libel and £9,000 for slander.
Ms Collins, who made no immediate comment, was refused permission to appeal although she can renew her application to the Court of Appeal.
The MPs said:
“Today’s judgment at last brings to an end a process to clear our names which has gone on for over two years, delayed and dragged out time again by Jane Collins’ repeated attempts to evade justice.
“She has run out of places to hide and today the judge said in no uncertain terms that her behaviour since proceedings began has been unreasonable and offensive.
“The judge has also noted the impact on each claimant’s reputation was seriously harmful, and each suffered substantial distress as a result of the publication complained of, from the repetition of its gist or sting, and from the cascade of hostile social media response.
“Ms Collins could have admitted her mistake, withdrawn her remarks and apologised to us.
“Instead, she tried every trick in the book, including the absurd irony of trying, and failing, to seek immunity by hiding behind the EU institutions she is so keen for us to leave behind.
“In this era of so-called ‘post truth politics’, today’s judgment serves as an important reminder that facts matter.
“Victims of vile crimes should never be treated as political pawns by opportunists trying to make electoral gains from their plight.
“Jane Collins’ lies have been allowed to run for too long but today the judge has ruled comprehensively against her.
“We’re very glad to get the full vindication this judgment gives us against Jane Collins, and we will continue to get on with the important work of standing up for our constituents in parliament.”
Ms Collins had argued that he comments were a political speech, and that they did not contain any allegation of fact, but expressed an opinion to the effect that the MPs were likely to have known that sexual exploitation was a serious problem in the area.
Mr Justice Warby settled the amount of damages to be paid after rejecting an attempt by Ms Collins to withdraw an offer of amends made on her behalf by the solicitors who were representing her at that time.
She had argued at a hearing in May last year that Mr Justice Warby should allow her to vacate the offer of amends, arguing that she had substantive defences available and should be allowed to take them to trial.
But the judge rejected the application in a decision which was delayed until last December, saying that Ms Collins had had failed to demonstrate that present circumstances were significantly different from those which existed or should have been contemplated at the time the offer of amends was made.
The decision on the offer of amends was delayed because Ms Collins had claimed that she was protected from any legal action for defamation by the privilege covering MEPs, and had applied to the European Parliament to confirm this contention. But in October the European Parliament told the High Court that it had concluded that this was not the case, as Ms Collins’ remarks were made in the context of a national political debate, and did not relate to her activities as an MEP or to the policies of the EU.
This article originally appeared on the online subscription service Media Lawyer and is reproduced with permission and thanks.