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Council libel payout after website blunder
SEDGEMOOR District Council is forking out thousands of pounds to settle a libel case after false and “outrageous” comments about a nobleman were posted on its website.
Baronet Sir Benjamin Slade, owner of 13th Century Maunsel House in North Newton, has received compensation and costs from his neighbour Sandy Evans, who made the comments in a letter to Sedgemoor District Council, and will be receiving an even greater payout from the council, which posted the letter on its website.
Mr Evans, who was High Sheriff of Somerset in 2004 and a former director of charities including the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, wrote to the council in April 2012 to object to Sir Benjamin’s plans to host the Wave Form electronic music festival at Maunsel House last summer.
The letter was then posted in the Temporary Event Notices section of the council’s website.
In a follow-up letter of apology, which has also been posted on the council website, Mr Evans wrote: “In my objection I said that there were grounds for concern about public safety at the proposed event arising from Sir Benjamin’s conduct.
“My statement may have been understood to suggest that Sir Benjamin had, with the help of what I described as “heavy-handed helpers”, engaged in criminally violent behaviour towards his ex-girlfriend.
“I fully accept that these allegations are not true and that Sir Benjamin has never used or authorised the use of any violence towards his ex-girlfriend”.
He added: “I accept entirely that there was no threat to public safety arising from the conduct of Sir Benjamin himself.”
Sedgemoor District Council said in a statement: “The council accepts that it should not have published the allegations and it also apologises to Sir Benjamin for the distress and damage to his reputation that have been caused as a result of the publication of the allegations on the council's website.”
The council has agreed to pay compensation and costs but said the exact total was still being finalised.
It says the bill will be covered by its insurance.
Sir Benjamin told the Mercury he had engaged leading libel lawyers Carter Ruck to fight his case after learning of the comments, which he branded “outrageous”.
He said the council would be paying a greater sum than Mr Evans, totalling “many, many thousands of pounds”.
He said: “What’s terribly unfair about libel is that most people cannot afford to engage Carter Ruck.
“I went through a terrible time; it’s very upsetting and it’s been very damaging to my business.”
Mr Evans declined to comment.