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Twitter libel row reaches the High Court as Lord McAlpine sues Sally Bercow

By Angela Haggerty, Reporter

April 16, 2013 | 3 min read

The row over libellous tweets linking Lord McAlpine to child abuse claims reached the High Court on Tuesday as the former Tory chairman pursued Sally Bercow for damages.

The House of Commons Speaker's wife tweeted after false links were made alleging Lord McAlpine was involved in a sex abuse scandal at a Welsh boys' home following an edition of BBC's Newsnight last year. Lord McAlpine was not named in the programme but assumptions were made in the aftermath on account of the information revealed in the report.

Lord McAlpine's QC, Sir Edward Garnier, told the court: "We are not talking about some kitchen table blogger addressing perhaps herself and one other person. We are talking about a pretty widespread readership."

Mrs Bercow had almost 60,000 followers on Twitter, which the court was told was bigger than the readership of some local newspapers. It was reported in March that comedian and Jonathan Creek actor Alan Davies may face damages claims of up to £200,000 after retweeting the false allegation about Lord McAlpine to 400,000 followers.

Other libel actions were settled with the BBC and ITV last year for damages totalling more tan £300,000. In February, the Tory peer dropped cases against Twitter users with less than 500 followers but requested they make a donation to BBC Children in Need.

Bercow - who was not present at the hearing - denies the tweet was defamatory. Her counsel, William McCormick QC, said letters of apology for the distress caused were sent by Mrs Bercow as well as an apology by tweet and clarification that the allegations were untrue. The QC confirmed an offer made by Bercow to settle with Lord McAlpine out of court had not been withdrawn.

Failing a settlement between the two parties, the next hearing in the case will be in the summer.

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