The BBC will pay ￡185,000 (US$294,000) in damages to Lord McAlpine following the Newsnight program broadcast earlier this month which wrongly linked the former Conservative party treasurer to historic allegations of child sexual abuse.
It is one of the largest sums ever paid out by the publicly funded corporation and will set a precedent for other legal actions the peer has in train against ITV, and other media organizations and individuals.
In a brief statement, the BBC said it had “agreed terms with Lord McAlpine to settle his claim of libel against the Corporation. The settlement is comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made.”
It is understood that despite the payment, the BBC and McAlpine, 70, have reached an agreement in which he will say that he still holds the BBC “in great esteem” when statements are read out in open court confirming the damages.
The concession was welcomed by the BBC as it battles to restore its reputation after the error, which led to the resignation of director general George Entwistle.
However, despite the money paid, McAlpine’s lawyer said that the peer was “more than aware that the ultimate people who will be paying any monies that he may receive are in fact the licence payers, the people who really own the BBC” and that any settlement “reached is tempered in the light of that.”
The highest sum the BBC has paid in recent years was ￡500,000 to African diamond firm Oryx Natural Resources, which the BBC wrongly linked to Osama bin Laden.
Earlier on Thursday Andrew Reid, McAlpine’s lawyer, said ITV’s This Morning was top of “a very long list” of those facing legal action from the peer over false accusations in relation to child abuse. Also likely to be targeted is Sally Bercow, the wife of Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, who had tweeted the peer’s name after the Newsnight program.
Reid said yesterday that if those on the list failed to come forward to apologize he would have no choice but to sue. Some people, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot, have already apologized to the peer in writing. Bercow had made an apology on Twitter, but Reid appeared not to be aware of this.
McAlpine spoke on Thursday about how he was “consigned to the lowest circle of hell” by the BBC Newsnight report that inaccurately linked him to child abuse claims at a north Wales care home.