THE BITTER legal row between Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd and the man he beat in last year’s General Election looks set to rumble on into the new year.
Mr Lloyd is applying to appeal against a High Court judge’s decision last week that election literature distributed by the Liberal Democrats calling former Conservative MP Nigel Waterson an ‘election expenses MP’ was defamatory and threw out his defence of justification and honest comment.
Mr Lloyd, who took Mr Waterson’s seat in Parliament last year with a 3,000 majority, is now facing a legal bill estimated to be more than £250,000 and may also have to pay out a yet-to-be decided settlement in aggravated damages to his predecessor.
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats at the party HQ in London said this week no decision had been made as to whether it would be Mr Lloyd or the national party footing the bill for the costs and damages if the permission to appeal is not successful.
The spokesperson said, “The whole party is behind Stephen and will continue to fight the court case.
“We will stand with Stephen in the same way he stands up for his constituents every single day.”
Despite calls for Mr Lloyd to stand down, the MP said it was ‘100 per cent’ business as usual.
He told the Herald, “It is a challenging time but my priority continues to be what I was elected to do and that is to represent the people of Eastbourne and Willingdon.”
Last week’s ruling by Mr Justice Tugendhat does not have any effect on the result of the election and a spokesperson for the Electoral Services Commission said the election could only be declared null and void by a court if there was something unlawful in the actual running of the contest.
Meanwhile Mr Waterson, who was cleared of any wrongdoing in the expenses investigations, was in Eastbourne this week and said he was relieved his reputation had been restored by the court.
He explained to the Herald, “Stephen Lloyd had every opportunity to apologise for making these allegations and that could’ve been done at a fraction of the costs now on the table.
“I had no choice in the matter as I wished to restore my reputation.”
Mr Waterson said he had not yet made any firm decision about whether he would apply to stand again as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party here in Eastbourne.
“I haven’t ruled out standing again,” he said, “but I have yet to make a personal decision.
“This isn’t about me considering my position.
“In light of the judgement Mr Lloyd should be considering his position because the relationship between an MP and his constituents is fundamentally based on trust.”