'We know who you are': Lord McAlpine goes for the tweeters

Nov 15, 2012

Those who defamed the Tory peer on social media should confess and settle, says McAlpine's solicitor


ANYONE who put Lord McAlpine's name on a social media site in response to the BBC's botched Newsnight programme about child sex abuse in north Wales children's homes should apologise to the Tory peer and reach a settlement, his solicitor says.

In a clear signal the former Conservative party treasurer is taking a tough approach to those who wrongly linked him to a paedophilia scandal, his solicitor Andrew Reid says the names of every perpetrator and the extent of their claims are known and will be followed up.

"What we're basically saying to people is, look, we know – in inverted commas – who you are, we know exactly the extent of what you've done," Reid tells Radio 4's The World at One. "And it's easier to come forward and see us and apologise and arrange to settle with us because, in the long run, this is the cheapest and best way to bring this matter to an end."

As for the BBC itself, Reid says he is hopeful a settlement will be reached with the corporation today over the false allegations in the Newsnight report that sparked a crisis at the public broadcaster and led to the resignation of Director General George Entwistle. But Reid says Lord McAlpine was aware that any payment from the BBC would ultimately come from licence fee payers.

A statement from the BBC said: "We share Lord McAlpine's view and we hope to reach a conclusion today."

In his first interview since the Newsnight programme was broadcast on November 2, Lord McAlpine tells The World at One today that the false allegations left him devastated and "got into his soul".

"It gets into your bones, it makes you angry, and that's extremely bad for you to be angry, and it gets into your soul and you just think there is something wrong with the world," he says.

Lord McAlpine says the BBC could have saved itself "a lot of agonising and money" if Newsnight's investigators had called him and offered him the right of reply.

"They should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learned later on – that it was complete rubbish and that I had only ever been to Wrexham once in my life."

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Lord McAlpine is peforming a huge public service by chasing down the tweeters and re-tweeters who treated his reputation in such a cavalier fashion. He is showing those who cleave to trendy notions like "citizen journalism" and "free expression" that such freedom must be combined with responsibility.

Boring old-style journalists - of the sort who declined to cover the Savile story because they had only rumours, not proof capable of withstanding the rigours of a libel action - learned this decades ago.

Is there a position between silly tweeters, who just enjoy spreading gossip, and failing to report (maybe through lack of investigation) a serious story?

How tragic that this wasn't resolved 20 years ago when the suspect identification was originally made. A lot of heartache - for all directly concerned, and those innocently implicated - could have been avoided.

Lord McAlpine is the author of:
The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business,
The Ruthless Leader: Three Classics of Strategy and Power,
The Servant.