UK

Sally Bercow, Commons Speaker's Wife, In Court Over McAlpine Tweet

16/05/2013 11:52 BST | Updated 16/05/2013 11:59 BST

A tweet by Commons Speaker's wife Sally Bercow pointed "the finger of blame" at Tory peer Lord McAlpine during a media frenzy over allegations of child sex abuse, a judge has heard.

Mrs Bercow was at London's High Court for a hearing to decide the meaning of the allegedly libellous tweet, posted two days after a November Newsnight report wrongly implicated the former Conservative Party treasurer in claims about events at Bryn Estyn children's home in the 1970s and 1980s.

She has always denied that the tweet - "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*" - was defamatory.

Lord McAlpine, who has already received six-figure payouts from the BBC and ITV, says it meant he was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care, and wants damages.

sally bercow

Sally Bercow arriving at court

Sir Edward Garnier QC said it would be difficult to think of a more serious meaning than the one advanced by Lord McAlpine, who was not in court.

He told Mr Justice Tugendhat that his case was founded on the circumstances in which Mrs Bercow decided to tweet the peer's name - the media frenzy over a story that spread "like wildfire".

It was also necessary to consider the words themselves, in isolation.

"The tweet, by itself, suggests that 'Lord McAlpine' has done something wrong. Drawing attention to someone and then adding the expression 'innocent face' hints at wrongdoing and negates any suggestion that the tweet was a neutral query to which the defendant was looking for an answer. The inclusion of the words 'innocent face' was giving a nudge and a wink to readers."

He said a user of Twitter was not someone who ignored what was happening in the world - he or she, far from being a hermit or shut off from the media, was inquisitive and IT literate.

"In short, there was a prominent and salacious story in the media, and what was missing was the name of the abuser at its centre."

Sir Edward said that, against the backdrop of almost saturation news coverage, Mrs Bercow tweeted Lord McAlpine's name - a man who fitted the description of the unnamed person at the centre of the controversy.

The addition of "innocent face" underpinned the connection of him to wrongdoing and the hypothetical reasonable reader would have put two and two together and understood the connection to the abuse allegations, he added.

"Put another way, what was the tweet about, if it was not pointing the finger of blame at Lord McAlpine?"