We have comprehensively blown wide apart the UK’s infamously repressive libel laws. Up until now, these have routinely been used not to prevent untruth, but to hide truth on behalf of the ultra-rich. In so doing they have spawned a whole universe of massively wealthy lawyers devoid of any moral values, dedicated only to the service and pursuit of money.
The leeches at Schillings appeared to have scored a routine victory on behalf of their client, notorious mercenary commander Tim Spicer, who has made a fortune from the war in Iraq. They threatened my publisher, Mainstream, with highly expensive legal action and Mainstream dropped my book.
Only ten years ago that would have been it – it would have been extraordinarily difficult to find a way to get the truth out to a wide public. Schillings, Spicer and the British legal system are still living in the 20th Century when English libel laws could effectiively give untold opportunity for repression.
But we are living now, so we put it free online, and published some copies privately. After just two days, a Google search on the precise phrase “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo” brings up 1,810 hits. A great many of these lead to a free download of the book. 23,000 copies of Murder in Samarkand have been sold so far, and most of those have been read by more than one person. But readership of The Catholic Orangemen looks likely to overtake in two weeks the readership that Murder in Samarkand achieved in two years.
So well done Schillings! The greatest publicist I could have!
Now what of Tim Spicer? Having put the very expensive Schillings on to me, he has either discovered a new commitment to free speech, or he was bluffing. No injunctions have appeared at my home in Sinclair Gardens. So now Spicer has either to sue, or stand revealed to the World as a man who tried to bully the truth out of print.
He will not sue, no matter how much I goad him. Not even if I show him some of my own legal advice:
There is no doubt that Craig is telling the truth. I do not say this because
on any question of fact I would believe Craig over Spicer, though that is the
case. The simple fact is that Craig can corroborate his story whilst Spicer
can’t. Spicer has no witnesses who were present at his meeting with Craig and
who can confirm what he says. Craig has a witness in the person of another
Foreign Office official who not only participated in the meeting but who
actually took notes during the meeting and who Craig says was the one who
actually produced the text of the UN Resolution so that it could be read out to
Spicer. Following the meeting Craig informed his Foreign Office superiors
about his concerns about Spicer. A whole series of meetings and discussions
about the Sierra Leone situation then followed lasting many months over the
course of which Craig abundantly and exhaustively documented his views about
Sierra Leone and the conflict there. These are the diametric opposite of those
that Spicer says Craig expressed during the meeting between Spicer and Craig.
The Foreign Office obviously believes Craig over Spicer because, instead of
disciplining Craig, which it surely would have done if Craig had contrary to
official policy first given Spicer the green light to sell arms illegally to
Sierra Leone in breach of a UN embargo and then lied about it, it instead
appointed Craig to a senior diplomatic post in Accra where he was given the
important job of brokering a peace agreement to end the Sierra Leone conflict.
Since the comments Craig makes about Spicer are true I would have thought it
most unlikely that Spicer would risk bringing a libel action against Craig.
This is not just because in a situation where Craig can corroborate what he
says whilst Spicer can’t the odds overwhelmingly point to Craig winning. It is
because of the serious consequences for Spicer if he were to bring such a case
and lost. These would go far beyond damage to reputation and financial loss.
If a Court were to find that Craig had not libelled Spicer because Craig was
telling the truth, Spicer could find himself once again facing criminal charges
for illegal arms trading. His defence (that the the Foreign Office in the
person of Craig had given him the green light) would be shot to pieces since it
would already have been discredited in advance by the libel Court. The CPS
would be looking at an open goal and this time it might be difficult to do what
was done back in 1998 and simply close the prosecution down. Simply by
bringing the libel action Spicer would have given the whole matter further
publicity whilst by discrediting his own defence Spicer would deprive the CPS
of its main grounds for not bringing a prosecution. There would even be a risk
(not great but by no means negligible) that the trial judge might even
recommend to the DPP that a prosecution be brought against Spicer in which case
calls for such a prosecution would probably be irresistable.
As for Craig’s other comments about Spicer, it is a matter of public knowledge
that Spicer is a mercenary even if that is not the word he uses to describe
himself. Craig is very careful not to make his allegations about Spicer’s
activities as a mercenary too specific, so I personally can see no grounds for
a libel action there. It is again a matter of public record that Spicer (along
with lots of other mercenaries) has been involved in and made a great deal of
money from the war in Iraq. Craig makes a frankly gratuitous comment about
Spicer’s facial appearance, but this is scarcely grounds for a libel action