Eastbourne MP wins appeal over libel case

The Big Apprentices Conversation at The Birley Centre Eastbourne. Stephen Lloyd MP speaking. January 24th 2013 E04098P
The Big Apprentices Conversation at The Birley Centre Eastbourne. Stephen Lloyd MP speaking. January 24th 2013 E04098P

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd has won a dramatic appeal in his long-running libel case with former MP, Nigel Waterson.

Mr Waterson, who was the former Conservative MP for Eastbourne, had brought about a claim that a Liberal Democrat campaign leaflet was defamatory.

The libel suit was issued against both Mr Lloyd and his election agent, Rebecca Carr.

The leaflet, produced by Mr Lloyd’s campaign team during the 2010 General Election, made comments about Conservative Nigel Waterson’s expenses.

Mr Waterson, who lost his Eastbourne seat to Mr Lloyd, was cleared of any wrongdoing over his expenses claims.

Mr Lloyd lodged an appeal against a previous ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in December 2011 which ruled in Mr Waterson’s favour, deciding that election campaign literature distributed by the Liberal Democrats calling Mr Waterson an ‘expenses scandal MP’ was defamatory.

Then Judge Mr Justice Tugendhat said he had “no hesitation in reaching this conclusion” and refused to allow Mr Lloyd’s legal team to appeal. The judge threw out Mr Lloyd’s defence – and that of his agent Rebecca Carr – of honest opinion and justification. He also ordered Mr Lloyd pay an interim payment of £60,000 towards the legal costs.

However, in a complete about turn about today, the Eastbourne MP learned that the Court of Appeal has ruled in his favour.

The Appeal Court found that the criticism made about Mr Waterson’s expenses claims for his second home in Kent were merely expressions of opinion.

Mr Lloyd, who was facing legal costs and damages running into tens of thousands of pounds, said he was relieved by the judgement.

He said: “I welcome the appeal court ruling. From the very first day I was elected my absolute priority has always been: what can I do for Eastbourne & Willingdon? And this has never wavered for one minute.

“I care deeply for our town and have been touched by the incredible support and generosity so many people have shown me since the case started almost two years ago.

“It has been a long and somewhat convoluted process, but I am absolutely delighted that common sense and justice has prevailed.”

Nigel Waterson released a statement this lunchtime saying that he and his legal team would be considering their next step.

He said: “It is disappointing that the Court has upheld Mr Lloyd and Ms Carr’s appeal of the original Summary Judgment which stated that they had no real prospect of defending the claim for defamation brought against them. The three Lord Justices who heard the appeal were split in their decision, with the leading Judgment in our favour but the other two Lord Justices reaching a different conclusion.

“I will now be studying the judgment in detail with my legal team and looking at where this case goes from here.

“This has already been a lengthy and stressful process for me and my family. I would like to thank them and many good friends for their unfailing support.”