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Friday, 29 May 2015

Lord Ballyedmond’s planning libel case thrown out by court

 Malcolm Ward:  His court costs must be paid

By Anna Burdett

LORD Ballyedmond’s attempts to sue two men over their objections to a Great Corby planning application were thrown out of court this week.

The peer, and his company, Norbrook Laboratories, were ordered to pay the men’s costs of £24,000 after they lost a libel case against Nigel Holmes, of Great Corby, and Malcolm Ward, from Brisco.

At London’s Royal Courts of Justice, Ronald Thwaites QC argued on behalf of the peer that the men distributed a defamatory circular in Great Corby, which made his client appear to be a ‘hypocrite’ whose good works in the village were a ‘sham’.

The circular concerned a planning application made by Norbrook Laboratories late last year, to create parking spaces for the Queen Inn pub on land next to the village’s recreation ground. It urged people with concerns to object to the application and included a prepared letter for them to sign and send to the council. The letter said the proposed parking area could be dangerous and spoil residents’ peace.

Mr Ward, a retired insurance broker, who owns a house in the village, was also accused of libelling the peer in an email he sent to Wetheral parish council and Carlisle City Council. Barristers for the men argued that the circular was fair comment and the email was merely a planning objection.

Judge Tugendhat told the hearing: “I would be failing in my duty if I allowed the matter to go forward to what would be a pointless and extremely expensive exercise”.

He said planning applications were part of the democratic process and that the circular was a debate about the proposal and not Lord Ballyedmond and his company.

He said fair comment was described as a ‘fundamental right of free speech’.

Judge Tugendhat denied the peer and his company permission to amend the particulars of the libel claim from an earlier hearing.

Lord Ballyedmond, who was not in court, and his company were ordered to pay Mr Holmes’s court costs of £7,476 and Mr Ward’s costs of £16,649.

Judge Tugendhat refused to grant Mr Thwaites leave to appeal and said such an application should be made to the Court of Appeal within 21 days.

After the hearing, Mr Ward said he was delighted.

Mr Holmes, a former BBC producer and a Carlisle diocese lay representative on the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, added: “I had nothing whatsoever to do with the circular letter. I did not suggest it, nor write it, nor distribute it. This has been a most unpleasant seven months.”

Alex McKnight, from Burnett’s solicitors in Carlisle, acted for Mr Holmes. He said: “I was confident of a successful outcome, and I am pleased that Mr Holmes and his family can now live life normally once again.”

After the hearing, a spokesman for Lord Ballyedmond and Norbrook Laboratories, said: “The matter is being studied by our lawyers with a view to an appeal.”