EASTBOURNE MP Stephen Lloyd was last night facing financial and political uncertainty after a top judge ruled he made defamatory comments about the man he beat in last year’s General Election.
Mr Lloyd is now facing a bill of thousands of pounds in legal costs and damages to former Conservative MP Nigel Waterson after a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London ruled in Mr Waterson’s favour and that election campaign literature distributed by the Liberal Democrats calling Mr Waterson an ‘expenses scandal MP’ was defamatory.
Judge Mr Justice Tugendhat said he had “no hesitation in reaching this conclusion” and refused to allow Mr Lloyd’s legal team to appeal.
He also ordered Mr Lloyd pay an interim payment of £60,000 towards the legal costs.
The judge also threw out Mr Lloyd’s defence – and that of his agent Rebecca Carr – of honest opinion and justification.
The judgement was handed down at the London court as the Herald went to press last night and marked the closing chapter of a long and bitter legal row between Mr Waterson and his successor.
Mark Elder, who heads Mr Waterson’s legal team, told the Herald from outside the court, “Nigel Waterson, who for 18 years was the Conservative MP for Eastbourne until the last election, brought a claim against the man who replaced him, Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd MP and his election agent, Rebecca Carr.
“They ran a defamatory campaign in their General Election publications which alleged that Mr Waterson was “an expenses scandal MP”.
“In spite of the fact that Mr Waterson’s expenses claims for a second home in outer London were found by Sir Thomas Legg to be within the rules, the Lloyd campaign persistently issued claims in Liberal Democrat election newspapers that alleged Mr Waterson was an ‘expenses scandal MP’ who had abused the system.
“They also suggested wrongly that Mr Waterson’s main home was not in his constituency.
“Following the advice of his solicitors, Irwin Mitchell LLP, Mr Waterson issued an Application seeking Summary Judgment on the grounds that the Mr Lloyd and Ms Carr had no real prospect of succeeding in their defence.
“Mr Waterson’s application was successful. Indeed the judge said he had ‘no hesitation reaching this conclusion’.
“Mr Waterson has not sought to challenge the result of the election, and he always intended to pursue this claim whatever the result of the election.
“It was important to him to achieve vindication from the court.”
Mr Waterson said outside the court he was pleased with the result.
“This has been a long and stressful episode for me and my family,” he said.
“I am delighted that the court has decided today that I was the victim of damaging and baseless accusations by Mr Lloyd and his agent. It was a clearcut decision.
“I have not sought to challenge the result of the election.
“We have achieved my specific aims today.
“I would like to thank my legal team, Irwin Mitchell, for their support and expertise in demonstrating that the Liberal Democrat claims were not honest comments.
“The world and the people of Eastbourne now know that the Liberal Democrats campaign misled voters. Mr Lloyd should now consider his own position.
“The relationship between an MP and his constituents is one based on trust.”
The next option for Mr Lloyd ’s legal team is to apply to the Court of Appeal.
After the ruling Mr Lloyd said, “The ruling relates to the interpretation of two campaign leaflets from the general election of 2010 and hinges principally on the use of a single word, and how it was understood by readers of the campaign material.
“This is a highly technical ruling on the word ‘scandal’ and how people understand it.
“I have made an application for leave to appeal, and will continue to assess my options in the coming days and months.
“It remains true that whilst maintaining a home in Wannock, Willingdon, Nigel Waterson claimed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayer-funded expenses to pay the mortgage interest on a four-bedroom family home in Beckenham, Kent, near where his children went to school and which was not in his constituency.
“The case is ongoing and in the meantime I remain completely focused on representing, helping and fighting for the people of Eastbourne and Willingdon, the role I am extremely proud of and the job I was elected to do.”
Mark Elder, who heads up Mr Waterson’s legal team said, “Nigel has not sought to challenge the result of the election, but simply wishes to restore his reputation with the general public and, in particular, the people of Eastbourne. We believe he has a strong case.”
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