Former Suffolk MP Tim Yeo ‘cash for advocacy’ libel case dismissed by the high court

Pictured is Tim Yeo

Pictured is Tim Yeo - Credit: Archant

Former Tory MP Tim Yeo has lost his libel action over a “cash-for-advocacy” claim which he said trashed his reputation.

Mr Yeo, 70, had asked for substantial compensation over three reports in The Sunday Times, in June 2013, which followed a lunch the previous month with two undercover journalists from the Insight team posing as representatives for a solar energy concern in the Far East.

They alleged that he was prepared to, and had offered to, act in a way that was in breach of the Commons code of conduct by acting as a paid parliamentary advocate who would push for new laws to benefit the business of a client for a daily fee of £7,000 and approach ministers, civil servants and other MPs to promote a client’s private agenda in return for cash.

They also contained comment to the effect that he had shown willing to abuse his position to further his own financial and business interests.

Times Newspapers Ltd said that the articles were true, it was fair comment and also responsible journalism on matters of public interest.

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Mr Yeo was not at London’s High Court today when Mr Justice Warby dismissed his case.

In a lengthy ruling, the judge said it was beyond argument that the subject matter of the articles was a topic of real and abiding public interest.

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Finding that the requirement of responsible journalism was “comfortably met”, he said: “This was a reasonable journalistic investigation on a topic of considerable public interest, which was undertaken in good faith, and in accordance with the ethics of journalism.”

The judge said that he found some of Mr Yeo’s evidence “utterly implausible” and, overall, he did not present “convincingly”.

In the witness box, he resorted on occasion to answers involving bluster and made deliberate use of a “hot-tempered counter-attack as a diversionary tactic”.

The judge said that he shared Mr Millar’s “incredulity” and was quite unable to accept Mr Yeo’s evidence that he had forgotten a reference in an email to a “generous remuneration package”.

“I accept that Mr Yeo is genuinely interested in green technology, and that he has given advice and help to some in this field without seeking or accepting any material reward.

“However, the May 13 email was short and clear. It was plainly suggesting a consultancy with generous remuneration. It is not credible that this was not present to Mr Yeo’s mind at all.

“Experience suggests that in general those who are not interested in money tend not to get much. I can think of none who convincingly claim to have no interest in money, yet end up with an annual income in excess of £200,000.

“I do not consider that Mr Yeo is such a person. In my judgment this evidence was untrue. I am not persuaded that it was honest either.”

he judge said that Mr Yeo went to the meeting, knowing full well that that its purpose was to discuss the prospect of a consultancy, involving work for which the client was prepared to pay generously.

It was a preliminary meeting but the important point is what it was preliminary to.

“To a man as intelligent as Mr Yeo that cannot have been in doubt. It was preliminary to a job, for payment.”

Branding Mr Yeo’s evidence on whether he appreciated that lobbying was being sought as “unreliable and untruthful”, the judge said that he had twisted and turned in the attempt to escape the obvious.

“When a fish wriggles on a hook, it goes deeper into the mouth and guarantees that the fish will not escape.”

Mr Yeo’s expressions of willingness reflected a preparedness to do things which, if they had been done, would clearly have involved breaches of the code.

“These findings are sufficient to lead me to uphold the plea of justification.”

He added that the newspaper had established that enough of the facts in the articles were true to allow an honest person, however prejudiced or obstinate, to make the defamatory comment.

Martin Ivens, editor of The Sunday Times, said: “This is a victory for investigative journalism. It vindicates the role of the press in exposing the clandestine advocacy by MPs for undisclosed interests.”

He added: “The Sunday Times’ Insight team has a long history of reporting on the conduct of politicians and is proud to have forced reform of standards in public life.

“This case has emphasised the essential role of newspapers in disclosing wrongdoing. It is good to see the courts recognise that journalism carried out in good faith is vital to a healthy democracy.”

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