POLITICS
31/07/2013 08:06 BST

Peter Cruddas Wins Libel Damages Over Sunday Times' David Cameron Meeting Allegations

CRUDDAS---05/30/07---Peter Cruddas, ranked the richest man in London England's financial district by the Daily Telegraph. CEO of internet trading company CMC. Cruddas started his private company with $10,000 pounds a decade ago and it's now worth billions. He is using Toronto as his North American headquarters. in Toronto, Ontario, May 30, 2007. (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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CRUDDAS---05/30/07---Peter Cruddas, ranked the richest man in London England's financial district by the Daily Telegraph. CEO of internet trading company CMC. Cruddas started his private company with $10,000 pounds a decade ago and it's now worth billions. He is using Toronto as his North American headquarters. in Toronto, Ontario, May 30, 2007. (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Former Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has won £180,000 damages in his High Court libel action over a Sunday Times allegation about charging £250,000 to meet David Cameron.

The 59-year-old businessman brought the claim against Times Newspapers Ltd and two members of the newspaper's Insight team over three articles which appeared in March 2012.

He complained they meant that, in return for cash donations to the Conservative party, he corruptly altered for sale the opportunity to influence government policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

During the litigation, the Court of Appeal ruled that "corruptly" meant "inappropriate, unacceptable and wrong and gave rise to an impression of impropriety".

He also said they meant he made the offer even though he knew the money offered for meetings was to come, in breach of the ban under UK electoral law, from Middle Eastern investors in a Liechtenstein fund and was happy that the foreign donors should use deceptive devices to conceal the true source of the donation.

The newspaper, which also has to make a £500,000 costs payment by mid-August, had pleaded justification.

Cruddas also succeeded in his claim for malicious falsehood but no separate damages award was made in respect of that today.

Cruddas said later: "The dark cloud that has hung over me and my family since the Sunday Times published its malicious lies about me 16 months ago has finally been lifted and justice has been done.

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"My world was turned upside-down when that article was published. I remember vividly having to walk into my offices the day after the article was published and face 500 of my staff, many of whom had a clip of the Sunday Times interview on their video screens. It was humiliating.

"I was also embarrassed to accept invites to events which meant that my charities suffered. The Conservative Party cut me off within two hours of the story breaking and did not want to hear my side of the story.

"I was constructively dismissed from my role as party treasurer and made to feel like an outcast as the Prime Minister and the party lined up to criticise me on television and radio. This hurt me immensely and further damaged my reputation.

"Since the article was published I have kept a dignified silence and let the legal process do the talking for me. Perhaps the Sunday Times under-estimated me and thought I would quietly disappear but I knew all along that I was telling the truth and that the story was malicious, so I was prepared to fight all the way.

"I hope my victory shows that this type of journalism employed by the Sunday Times and its journalists Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert is totally unacceptable, particularly post Leveson."

He added: "Today is a good day for me. I am delighted that my good name has been restored. My family, friends and legal team have shown me huge support throughout, which has kept me going, and I sincerely thank them."

Jeremy Clarke-Williams, senior principal lawyer at Slater & Gordon Lawyers, who represented Cruddas, said: "This is a devastating and unequivocal judgment which provides the clear vindication Cruddas deserves.

"We are delighted that his reputation as a successful and honest businessman and generous philanthropist has been restored.

"Although the Sunday Times continually maintained both before and during the litigation that this was public interest journalism, they did not defend the case on that basis and clearly there can never be a public interest in publishing malicious and damaging lies.

"One can only hope that important lessons will be learned from this case about the proper conduct of investigative journalism."