Fenland Council pays libel damages and makes High court apology
Fenland District Council today publicly apologised and paid “substantial damages” to the owners of a Cambridgeshire travel company following a press release that the High Court was told had a “catastrophic” effect on the firm.
The Council settled a libel claim brought by Angela Matthias and Amanda Lopez, the former owner and manager respectively of Angel Travel, based in March, against it and newspaper publishers Archant Regional Ltd, after allegations made in 2008 forced their business to close.
Matthias and Lopez sued after the Council, in May 2008, published a press release claiming that Angel Travel were “abusing the licensing system.” One of the country’s top judges, Mr Justice Tugendhat, was told the release led to a front page newspaper report headlined “School taxi firm investigation” (not in the Citizen).
Daniel Taylor, solicitor for the claimants, said, reading a prepared statement, that the press release made a number of “serious defamatory allegations”, including that Angel Travel’s most recent address was an empty site which the firm had abandoned without telling the Council, that there was no means of making direct contact with anyone in charge of the company and that there had been “significant abuse” of the rules for companies with ‘home to school’ contracts with the County Council.
He said that it also claimed that Angel Travel’s insurance was not valid and that it had failed to return three recently expired licence plates.
He said that the newspaper article of 23 May 2008 reported these allegations, and also reported that a driver employed by the claimants had been convicted after driving with a schoolboy passenger at 76mph on a notoriously dangerous road. In fact, he said, the driver had, at the time, not been working for Angel Travel, but was driving in a private capacity.
He said that Archant followed up the article on 30 May 2008 with another alleging that Angel Travel had employed and was responsible for drivers who were “endangering the lives of school children”.
Mr Taylor said: “The effect on the claimants of the publication of these allegations was catastrophic. Their business collapsed overnight, they were vilified in the local area and had to move elsewhere for a period of time.
“The defamatory allegations published by the first and second defendants were false. The first defendant has paid the claimants substantial damages with regard to these allegations and has agreed to pay their legal costs. Under the circumstances, the claimants are willing to let the matter rest.”
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