McAlpine Sues U.K. Speaker’s Wife Bercow Over Twitter Post
By Erik Larson – Dec 14, 2012 4:16 AM ET
Alastair McAlpine, the former U.K. politician wrongly identified as a pedophile after a false report by the British Broadcasting Corp., sued a lawmaker’s wife over her post about him on Twitter Inc.’s social-media service.
The libel lawsuit against Sally Bercow, the spouse of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, was filed Dec. 7 in London, court records released yesterday show. McAlpine, 70, had threatened legal action against the as many as 10,000 people who posted or re-posted about him after the BBC implied last month he sexually abused a boy in the 1970s.
“I am still hopeful that we will be able to reach a sensible agreement to settle this matter” without “the need to proceed to a trial,” McAlpine’s lawyer Andrew Reid said in an e-mailed statement.
The BBC, the world’s biggest broadcaster, agreed to pay McAlpine 185,000 pounds ($298,000) after the Nov. 2 error on its “Newsnight” report, which gave hints about the ex-politician’s identity without naming him. Before the mistake was uncovered, Twitter postings accusing McAlpine were already spreading, setting the stage for the biggest libel case of its kind in Britain, media lawyers including Ruth Collard of Carter-Ruck in London have said.
The speaker’s office declined to comment on the court filing.
McAlpine, who was deputy chairman of the U.K. Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher, wants Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers to apologize and donate to the BBC Children in Need charity, he said last month. Bercow and other Twitter users who have more followers were threatened with tougher legal action.
The BBC error that triggered the dispute has added to criticism against the broadcaster after it failed to air an investigative report about one of its former television stars, Jimmy Savile, who died last year and is now suspected of widespread sex abuse involving children as early as 1959.
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