A DEVASTATING High Court judgment has completely vindicated George Galloway in his libel battle against the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Judge David Eady said the allegations that the Respect MP was in the pay of Saddam Hussein, which were splashed across the Telegraph in April of last year, were “seriously defamatory”.
He awarded damages of £150,000-the highest award by a judge since a cap of £200,000 on libel actions came in.
Rarely has such a judgment, which runs to 218 paragraphs, so comprehensively come out in favour of one side against the other in a libel action.
“This is a total vindication for me and for the anti-war movement,” George Galloway told Socialist Worker immediately after the court ruling.
“The Daily Telegraph tried to make me out to be an enemy of the state and the anti-war movement to be the enemy within.
“But the real enemies of the state are Tony Blair and those around him who took us to war on a false pretext with such disastrous consequences.
“The enemy within are those sections of the media and poodle MPs in parliament who went along with those lies.
“I am not happy today. I am angry. The Daily Telegraph was one of the trumpeters that took us to war.
“Today it has been held to account, and what an account that has been. They have received a judicial caning.
“But when is Tony Blair going to be held to account?”
The High Court judgment points to how the Telegraph, through its leader article, sought to use its story about Galloway to drive a wedge into the anti-war movement.
It reads, “The article is directed as much towards the poor benighted anti-war campaigners as against Mr Galloway. It is acknowledged that ‘if it is unfair to blame Labour for Mr Galloway, the anti-war movement is far more culpable’… it is they who are encouraged to mend their ways and recant their support.”
The Telegraph ran its story just after US troops had entered Baghdad at a time when the British government was desperately trying to discredit that anti-war movement, which had organised the biggest demonstration in British history.
“The High Court judgment is a further step in the unravelling of all those attempts to discredit our movement,” said Galloway.
“This action was brought at huge personal risk to myself. Had I lost, I would have been looking at costs of #1.25 million, which would have left me homeless, bankrupt and therefore jobless, as bankrupts cannot hold public office.
“The attention must now turn to those who, at no personal risk, took us into a war that has cost 100,000 Iraqi lives, over 70 British soldiers’ lives and over 1,000 US soldiers’ lives.”
He attacked the Telegraph’s “coward’s defence”, under which it did not try to claim that its allegations were true or even that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” they were true, but that it had a duty to publish them anyway.
In page after page the High Court judgment rejected that defence. It says of one Telegraph editorial, “…one should not lose sight of the leading article ‘Saddam’s Little Helper’, which begins with the words ‘It does not get much worse than this’.
“It expresses conclusions about Mr Galloway. So too does the use of the word ‘treason’ in the context of a full length and solitary leader.
“The ordinary reader would assume that the strength of the language and the prominence given to the ‘story’ indicated the newspaper’s conclusions about its significance.”
Later on the judgment points out that one of the defamatory articles is “not headed, ‘If Mr Galloway Were Saddam’s Little Helper, This Would Be A Very Serious Matter And Should Therefore Be Fully Investigated’… Mr Galloway is asserted to be ‘Saddam’s little helper’.”
Of the Telegraph’s claim that it only published a “huge” picture of George Galloway’s home to provide “background ‘lifestyle’ colour” the judgement reads:
“The huge colour photograph was not there to show readers the fortuitous and incidental fact of where Mr Galloway was expressing his denials, but rather to demonstrate the link between being ‘in Saddam’s pay’ and the material rewards of those undisclosed ‘profits’…
“To suggest otherwise is disingenuous or, at best, wishful thinking… It was not a lifestyle piece, such as one might find in (say) Hello magazine.”
The judge also found that the Telegraph had not presented its allegations to George Galloway or even shown him the documents it said it was merely presenting to the public.
Instead of reporting his refutation of the lie that he was in Saddam’s pay it scorned it as “bluster”.
Of the Telegraph’s documents Galloway says, “They are fake, bogus. They are photocopies with one unintelligible signature supposedly from a security officer referring to another, unnamed security officer.
“The Telegraph tried extremely hard to find evidence to back them up after it published its attacks on me.
“It could not find any, for the simple reason that no such evidence exists or could possibly exist, because the allegations are wholly untrue.”
This is Galloway’s fourth libel victory over claims that he took money from Saddam Hussein, claims which have been spread around the world and used to damage the anti-war movement.
He is planning to raise questions in parliament over who is behind the smear campaign.
That campaign led to the Telegraph’s libel, forged documents being sent to the Daily Mail, and US paper the Christian Science Monitor printing allegations based on forged documents, for which it had to pay damages.
“The entire story of the build up to and prosecution of the Iraq war is based on lies,” Galloway told Socialist Worker.
“There were the fake documents concerning supposed uranium shipments from Niger. There were the ‘dodgy dossiers’ about weapons of mass destruction.
“The smears against me are part of a pattern of deception.”
When the Telegraph’s campaign against George Galloway and the anti-war movement was unleashed 18 months ago Socialist Worker did not hesitate to expose it as part of the attempt to destroy the Stop the War Coalition and allow Blair to get away with the invasion of Iraq.
We wrote, “The war on Iraq was based on blatant lies, and the warmongers are still lying today.
“The pro-war press owners are trying to smear George Galloway MP and, through him, the anti-war movement…
“In villages, towns and cities across Britain ordinary people built a powerful movement in the face of pro-war propaganda and sneering from the vast bulk of the press.
“Those networks of people are continuing. That is what really galls pro-war papers like the Telegraph and the Sun, who have acted as Bush and Blair’s little helpers during their slaughter in Iraq.”
That movement continues to this day and is strengthening as more and more people come to oppose the occupation.
There is not a crumb of comfort for the pro-war Telegraph or for the government in the High Court’s judgment.
The paper was refused leave to appeal, but said it would still try to overturn the ruling.
Judge Eady even highlighted two instances of “gratuitous” remarks by the Telegraph’s barrister during the case.
In the first Galloway was falsely accused of referring to the wife of the then Telegraph owner Conrad Black as “being Jewish”, a charge that was hastily withdrawn.
In the second he was accused of “defending Saddam Hussein” over the massacre of Kurdish villagers in Halabjah in 1988.
In fact Galloway had just pointed out that he had condemned the atrocity “unlike the British and American governments who went on supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons”.
“Everyone in the anti-war movement and everyone who has supported me should feel wholly justified,” says Galloway.
“And we should step up our fight with renewed vigour.”
George Galloway was to speak at a Respect press conference in east London this evening, where he was expected to announce a challenge at the general election.
Socialist Worker will be carrying a full interview with George Galloway on the anti-war movement and the strategy for Respect in the run up to that election.