In Brief

McAlpine lawyers claim first blood in Bercow libel suit

Sally Bercow is no ordinary tweeter, says Tory peer's lawyer: she has more 'readers' that some local papers

SALLY BERCOW is not some "kitchen table blogger", a lawyer for Lord McAlpine said today as the Tory peer's libel case reached the High Court. She has a Twitter following of almost 60,000, giving her a "readership" greater than that of many local newspapers. As a result, any inaccurate or mischievous statement she makes is all the more damaging.

McAlpine was the "leading politician" wrongly linked to paedophilia claims at the Bryn Estyn boys' home in north Wales last year after a bungled Newsnight investigation. While he was not named on the BBC programme, McAlpine was then identified by Twitter users, including Bercow.

In February, McAlpine dropped defamation claims against some users of Twitter but he refuses to let Bercow off the hook. His QC, Tory MP Sir Edward Garnier, told libel judge Mr Justice Tugendhat today that the tweet posted by the Speaker's wife had helped identify McAlpine as "the leading politician subject to the allegations".

Neither Bercow nor McAlpine appeared at the High Court to hear the peer's successful application for the libel action to be split in two when it is heard in full this summer. One hearing will decide if the tweet was libellous and a second will decide damages if Bercow's comment is found to be defamatory.

Speaking outside the court, McAlpine's solicitor, Andrew Reid, claimed the Conservative peer had been victorious in this first stage of the legal battle, telling The Guardian: "The will of the court is not the will of Mrs Bercow".

Bercow has previously apologised for the tweet but maintains that it was foolish rather than libellous. She has also accused Lord McAlpine's lawyers of being "ambulance chasers" and "big bullies" and claimed that the legal action against her is "totally politically motivated" (she does not let being married to the Conservative Speaker stop her supporting Labour).

The BBC has already agreed to pay Lord McAlpine £185,000 plus costs for the Newsnight report. ITV reached a £125,000 settlement after making similar allegations.

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