UK Libel Laws Busted 20

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


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20 thoughts on “UK Libel Laws Busted

  • Sue

    We have all done our best to add your links to our blogs and websites.

    I notice there are also copies on all the illegal filesharing sites and many people are downloading it.

  • writerman

    Well done, Craig. Congratulations. One small step for a Murray, but a giant leap for freedom!

  • Neil Hoskins

    Please, please, please… don't make me wait for the book to arrive from Amazon… what's the gratuitous observation about his facial appearance?

  • Jon

    @Sue: it is not helpful to describe peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing as "illegal filesharing"; this suggests that even those supportive of the idea that 'information wants to be free' have bought government and corporate propaganda on the subject.

    It is of course true that P2P systems are used for illegal purposes, but the technology itself is not illegal, which is an important distinction. I suspect information dissemination in our age of re-emerging authoritarianism will depend increasingly on P2P technology, so it is important that those of us who want the corrupt to be exposed not to (unintentionally) discredit it.

    @Neil: download a free version and have a sneaky peek!

  • Ruth

    Another reason why Spicer might be reluctant to sue is the fact that such a case may reveal more information as to the ownership of Sandline. This may be the central issue as to why Schillings tried to prevent publication of your book rather than the fact that Spicer lied etc.

  • ken

    Congratulations, very well done! Can't say better than that. Looking forward to the 'real' book arriving – the one made of paper and ink.

    I hope more people who have been in your sorts of situations, and there must be more than a few, will be inspired to write the truth similarly.

  • Strategist

    Couldn't resist copying out here a chunk of the Schillings "chilling" letter you posted up earlier under "Free Speech For Free". In the teenage vernacular, sooo fuck you, Schillings!

    "Please immediately take into your possession all drafts of the Book prepublication, all notes, emails, correspondence, memos, images and other documents relevant to the publication of this Book, and preserve them safely

    pending the outcome of this dispute. They will need to be disclosed in due

    course if litigation has to be commenced. Also, you will need to disclose the financial arrangements for the sale and licence of the Book to other publications.

    In the circumstances, we require that you confirm immediately that you agree to undertake on behalf of Mainstream publishing Company (Edinburgh) Limited not to publish any libels regarding our client in any editions of the Book or at all.

    We require the above undertaking by 4pm on Friday 11th July 2008, failing

    which we will have no option but to advise our client with regard to making

    applications to the High court for an injunction to restrain publication and …for pre-action disclosure. You are on notice that we will seek to recover the costs of any necessary applications from you."

  • MerkinOnParis

    Good news, so far, Craig.

    Needless to say, the government will be looking at the libel laws in response.

    It may be that libel becomes a criminal offence in which case the bloggers will be disciplined.

  • Stevie

    we are all part of something special that Craig has started…How different the world would be without you.

  • ianjuggles

    Not only did I order a copy of The Catholic Orangemen, but I will be ordering a copy of Murder in Samarkand from a local bookstore, which I have long contemplated buying. I will, of course, pass the books on to others when I am done reading them.

  • joe90 kane

    They don't like it up them Craig!

    The 'Catholic Orangemen' should be quite popular with the patrons of my local public library, if North Lanarkshire Council add it to their stock as I am requesting they do.

    I live in the heartlands of the Celtic-Rangers football divide – I can just imagine the local head-scratching amongst the fitba' literati when they see the title.

    What a pity the author's name isn't Billy Pope!

    all the best Craig!

  • Matt

    @Sue as mentioned above by Jon; P2P file sharing is not inherently illegal.

    It is however a fantastic way of disseminating information, in whatever format, in an efficient and above all decentralised manner. One can only assume that is the reason for the disproportionate level of world wide governmental attempts to control it.

  • ingo

    Congratualtions, I shall ask Norwich Library to stock it, indeed we must all ask our local libraries to be so kind and lend us this book. Well done Craig I'm chuffed, just think of the scope for the future, the mind boggles and Arsenal might even be rescued.

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