Liam Fox settles libel action

Thursday, 30 January, 2014

Read the article about the case on BBC News here or continue reading to see the agreed statement in open court. 

 

Agreed Statement in Open Court

Counsel for the Claimant (Jonathan Barnes):

May it please your Lordship, in this action for libel whose trial is fixed to commence on 3rd February 2014 I appear on behalf of the Claimant, the Conservative Member of Parliament for North Somerset and the former Secretary of State for Defence. My learned friend, Mr Matthew Nicklin QC, appears for the Defendant, Mr Harvey Boulter, a British businessman principally resident in Dubai, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Porton Capital Inc., a company based in the Cayman Islands.

The action relates to remarks made by the Defendant to Sky News on 7th November 2011 as part of an interview, which were posted on their website where they remained until November 2012. The Court held on 4th June 2013 that the innuendo meaning of the words was that:

“the Claimant was in a unique position to give evidence to debunk the baseless allegations of blackmailmade publicly against the Defendant but had not done so; that although Dr Fox had previously said he was willing to do so, Mr Boulter doubted it; and that if the Claimant did not attend court voluntarily in the United States to exonerate the Defendant, then he would be forced to do so by legal process.”

The background to this action involves a 45-minute meeting in Dubai on 17th June 2011 between Mr Boulter and Dr Fox, the then Secretary of State for Defence. The meeting was also attended by Mr Adam Werritty who had arranged it. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss mobile phone encryption technology, for use by British troops in Afghanistan for ‘welfare’ calls home.

In the last five minutes of the meeting Mr Boulter raised the subject of legal proceedings in London between Porton and the American corporation, 3M, over ‘Baclite’, a screening test for the detection of MRSA in hospital patients. The trial of those proceedings, in which a Ministry of Defence agency was also a claimant, had just begun, but Dr Fox knew nothing of the details of them and did not engage with Mr Boulter on the subject or discuss the litigation.

Following the meeting Mr Boulter sent two e-mails dated 18th and 19th June 2011 to an American lawyer acting for 3M in without prejudice settlement negotiations. In those e-mails he referred to the meeting he had had with Dr Fox, and said that as a result of the meeting Mr Brewer ought to understand that Mr Cameron’s Cabinet might very shortly be discussing the knighthood recently awarded to the Chairman of 3M, Sir George Buckley.  On receiving the e-mails 3M started a civil claim alleging blackmail in New York. Mr Boulter has always strenuously denied the contents of his e-mails amounted to blackmail and commenced proceedings against 3M for libel in England, where the allegation had been reported in the national media.

It has not been Mr Boulter’s case that at the meeting on 17th June 2011 either Dr Fox or Mr Werritty discussed Sir George’s knighthood. That was made clear when this matter was before Mr Justice Tugendhat in December, and it is accepted that neither at their meeting in Dubai nor on any other occasion was the matter discussed between Dr Fox and Mr Boulter.

The Claimant has always made clear that he was willing to give evidence in the US proceedings against Mr Boulter if called to do so. However his clear recollection of the meeting with Mr Boulter on 17th June 2011 meant he felt unable to assist in debunking the allegation of blackmail made by 3M against Mr Boulter. This is accepted by Mr Boulter, and as a result it has been possible to resolve this litigation on a basis which the parties have agreed should be confidential but include the payment of a sum in respect of damages as well as Dr Fox’s legal costs. Since Mr Boulter accepts the lack of any foundation for the meaning of the words found by the Court, Dr Fox’s reputation has been vindicated, and he is pleased that there is no need for him to pursue this action to trial.

 

Counsel for the Defendant (Matthew Nicklin QC):

My Lord, on behalf of Mr Boulter I accept all that has just been said. Through me he unreservedly withdraws the words posted on Sky News’s website and apologises to Dr Fox for the embarrassment and damage to his reputation those words and these proceedings have caused him. He confirms that although he raised the issue of the Baclite litigation at the meeting on 17th June 2011 there was no discussion of the matter with Dr Fox nor any discussion concerning Sir George Buckley’s knighthood. Like the Claimant, Mr Boulter is pleased that it has been possible to reach a resolution of this dispute.  For completeness, the US allegations commenced by 3M against Mr Boulter were dismissed before trial.

 

Counsel for the Claimant:

In these circumstances my client feels that his objective in bringing these proceedings has been achieved, and it therefore only remains for me to ask that the record be withdrawn.