back to article Daft tweet by Speaker Bercow's loquacious wife DID libel lord

Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, libelled a peer in her infamous "innocent face" tweet, a judge ruled today. At a hearing in London's High Court, Mr Justice Tugendhat said she wrongly identified Lord McAlpine as a paedophile through innuendo. The ruling prompted Mrs Bercow to issue a public apology and …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    have you seen it?

    I'm sure it was here somewhere, my "sympathetic" face.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I was being conversational and mischievous, as was so often my style on Twitter."

    Actually Ms Bercow, you're very irritating, especially when you call anyone who disagrees with you a troll as a knee-jerk reaction. You do however provide a very useful role on Twitter, a key service in fact - a quick way to make sure the Unfollow link still works.

    1. Josco


      Who is this Sallyber Cow person anyway? Why has she so many twitter followers? Could she be riding on the coat tails of her equally unspeakable husband?

      1. hplasm

        Re: Agree

        A cross between a Berk and a Cow, perhaps?

      2. Crisp

        Re: Could she be riding on the coat tails

        Well she's got no achievements or skills of her own.

  3. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Natalie Gritpants Silver badge

      Re: Oh the conflict!

      "Libel laws are far too strong in this country"

      They are not as strong as the truth.

      Sally Bercow is a libellous tweeter.

      I don't expect to get sued for the above line (maybe told off by a grammar geek).

    2. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Oh the conflict!

      Libel laws are not too strong, far from it. However the biggest issue is that you need serious money to get it to court. It's not something your average 2.4 children family does.

      It's great to see a common sense ruling here. She attempted, with malice, to intentially smear someones good name. If you disagree thats fine, but consider what you would do in his place. I can't think of much worse to be accused of. She leads a completely meaningless life and attempted to justify her pathetic existance by interjecting herself into an issue she had no knowledge about and stick the knife in. This isn't gossiping about how her at number 6 doesn't cut the grass, she inferred an innocent person was guilty of a quite horrendous crime knowing that the prominance of her husband would result in it being widely seen for no reasons beyond attention seeking and malice. I hope she (and others) learn from this and grow as people, I doubt it.

      1. foxyshadis

        Re: Oh the conflict!

        Libel laws are too strong because anyone with the money can basically get a ruling of defamation regardless of how far from libelous the message is, sometimes even if it's true! Meanwhile someone without money has no recourse for completely damaging falsehoods levied against them. The system is just plain broken, it doesn't need to be weakened or strengthened, just redone from scratch.

    3. goldcd

      Re: Oh the conflict!

      With you on the conflict.

      Not exactly fond of McAlpine either though - His response when this initially kicked off was to ask her for £15,000

      (which he's now got after she didn't pay and it got dragged into court with costs).

      Not exactly sure what I'd have done in his situation - but surely a massive amount of public apology is the correct response. Oh, and the "money goes to my charity of choice" counts for f'all, when it's being pulled out of your wallet.

      Looking at the tweet, I'm sure I've left more slanderous and unfounded comments lying all over the internet and have the odd paranoid moment sometimes waking up with a hangover and remembering I had the PC on.

  4. Rikkeh
    Thumb Down

    This Morning

    Quite how Schofield has been able to get off so much more lightly than Bercow and the Beeb with his moronic stunt on This Morning is beyond me.

    The Beeb took some precautions (although not enough) and as is now the custom has to bow and scrape for its mistakes, while Bercow was a twit but only in the moment. Schofield's stunt has wasn't just idiocy, it was pre-planned and possibly pre-cleared idiocy without any sign of caution. Much worse IMHO.

    Gordon the Gopher must be able to pull some serious strings.

    1. Phil W

      Re: This Morning

      Not that I watch that garbage but I'm fairly sure This Morning is on ITV not the BBC?

      1. Rikkeh

        Re: This Morning

        I was referring to Newsnight on the BBC (which didn't name McAlpine but gave enough info for him to be identified). I know This Morning is on ITV, had it been on the Beeb, there'd have been calls for the DG's head.

    2. SuccessCase

      Re: This Morning

      @Rikkeh. Lord McAlpine was also libelled by George Monbiot of the Guardian. However Monbiot to his credit, issued a full and proper apology and didn't contest the case. His apology should be held up as a model for how to do so properly (e.g. without reservation and with sincerity) and also illustrates how a proper apology effectively draws a line under the matter. In light of the apology, Lord McAlpine didn't request any damages, but instead requested he do some work for charity. So on the other side that shows the right attitude to hold when you are suing someone for libel. George Monbiot thanked Lord McAlpine for taking an enlightened approach and felt it was entirely fair and reasonable and ultimately beneficial for all parties (including the charity). All parties therefore found a silver lining within the cloud and came out with a degree of credit.

      Compare that with how Mrs Bercow handled the case and it's difficult to imagine a greater contrast.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        The Non-Apology Apology


        An excellent post. Allow me to do a compare and contrast for you. Firstly we have Sally Bercow, after losing her libel case, which she contested even though it was fucking obvious to any gibbon with access to the internet precisely what point her tweet was trying to make:

        "Today's ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users," she added. "Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. On this I have learned my lesson the hard way.

        So we start with the "it wasn't just me Mum, Tommy did it too" defence. Then there's the "I didn't do it Mum" defence, even though I've just lost the court case my comments weren't really defamatory. Well love, yes they fucking were. You lost. Deal with it. And then she's apparently "learned her lesson." I suppose as an apology it's not quite 'the full New Labour' because she did say she apologies, and it was "I've learned my lesson" NOT "lessons have been learned", in the weasely passive.

        However... We now compare and contrast to George Monbiot:

        I have done a few stupid things in my life, but nothing as stupid as this. The tweets I sent which hinted – as I assumed to be the case – that Lord McAlpine was the person the child abuse victim Steve Messham was talking about were so idiotic that, looking back on them today, I cannot believe that I wrote them.

        But I did, and they are unforgiveable. I helped to stoke an atmosphere of febrile innuendo around an innocent man, and I am desperately sorry for the harm I have done him. I have set out, throughout my adult life, to try to do good; instead I have now played a part in inflicting a terrible hurt upon someone who had done none of the harm of which he was wrongly accused. I apologise abjectly and unreservedly to Lord McAlpine.

        Now that is a proper apology. Which he's headlined on his website, "I have helped to malign an innocent man"

        Which of these two reactions is the more mature, or reflects better upon the character of the person involved?

      2. Dr Stephen Jones

        Re: This Morning

        Moonbat agreed to do £25,000 of community service over three years.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This Morning

        "George Monbiot thanked Lord McAlpine for taking an enlightened approach and felt it was entirely fair and reasonable and ultimately beneficial for all parties (including the charity). "

        Well maybe Lord McAlpine could have required Sally to appear on page 3 of the Sun. I'd have bought the rag that day, she'd have learned her lesson, everybody would be happy.

  5. MJI Silver badge

    That tweet read like a question?

    How can you tell the intent of a twatter?

    It looked like an innocent question.

    Oh And Scholfield was a prat.

    Oh and I do find her annoying.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: That tweet read like a question?

      Given the "innocent smiley face" yes, that moves it from question to dig.

      Of course, being from the other side of the pond, this is all very strange to me. That innuendo accusation was par for the course for explicit accusations over here.

      What I find more offensive is that the so called news agencies which are the actual source of the accusation seem to be being held to a much less severe standard. But that's true on this side of the pond as well.

      1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: That tweet read like a question?

        Publicly funded news organisations like the BBC, and their subcontractors, tend to get held to a much lower level of accountability than everyone else over here in the UK. IMHO, of course.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Law is an Ass

    Asking why something is trending on Twitter is now libellous if that something is a person? Ridiculous.

    1. Blane Bramble

      Re: The Law is an Ass

      No, naming someone as the so-far unnamed person accused of a serious crime, when that person is not the so-far unnamed person accused of a serious crime is libellous. That would appear to be a correct usage of the law.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: The Law is an Ass

        In other words the day after a Ripper murder, to print a headline asking "why is the prince of wales buying so many razors?" isn't that different from printing "the prince of wales is Jack the Ripper" - smiley face or not.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: The Law is an Ass

      It drew peoples' attention to the libelous tweets accusing him of being a paediatrician, and therefore it was effectively republishing them.

      1. Churro Joe

        Re: The Law is an Ass

        Surely the 'trending topics' section of twitter is therefore Libellous? Are they therefore going to remove this in the UK?

        1. Tom 13

          Re: The Law is an Ass

          The trending topics section is accurately reporting on what people are tweeting. It therefore has a large measure of protection. I expect that for the UK site the result would be an letter/notice requesting possibly requiring a court to issue a take down notice if the tweeting itself was libelous. Normally the point of the UK law seems to be to sue all those who are involved in promoting the libel. This is course the plaintiff was headed until he realized what a horrendous cost it would be to pursue.

          Little of that would apply in the US, where the standards for libel are much looser (almost non-existent in some cases, especially public figures and as far as I can tell, none for elected public officials).

  7. Chris Miller

    Sally Bercow = Yo Screwball

    That is all.

  8. Anonymous Coward 101

    What stuns me more than anything is exactly how the McAlpine story came to be on Newnight in 2012. The original accuser had been shown to be a bit 'unreliable' as early as 1999:

    Incidentally, the writer of that article (who died in 2011) wrote extensively about the North Wales child abuse case, and would be incredulous that it is restarting. I suspect a lot more innocent men, many now dead, are going to be slandered - only this time it will be with state approval.

  9. DrXym Silver badge

    How is it defamatory

    If Lord McAlphine was trending (he was), and regardless of the truth of the allegation, everyone pretty much knew why, what's this particular tweet doing to defame him?

    1. Velv

      Re: How is it defamatory

      Spreading malicious rumours is libel.

      If she did not have evidence of his guilt then that is spreading malicious rumours.

    2. TkH11

      Re: How is it defamatory

      How is it defamatory? I thought the judge clearly explained that. But the full text of what he said isn't included here in this article here. The judge did discuss the use of the phrase "innocent face", which did not need to be appended if she was genuinely asking the question as to why he was trending. By adding that phrase she is clearly changing the meaning of the question, and implying something which she has not stated. Her intent was clear.

      If you take a moment to ponder over it, she couldn't make the statement he was a paedophile, that would have been libellous and she knew it, so what she was trying to do was to encourage people to go look for themselves, it's obvious from her post that she knew why he was trending, she knew what was being said about him and she was encouraging others to go find out for themselves. She evidently knew what the concept of libel is and she was trying to get round it but not stating what she believed to be true but by encouraging others to uncover what she knew.

      The law is clear, as the article states the relevant paragraphs, the person has to be named and the attitude of people towards the 'victim' has to be adversely affected by what the perpetrator (Bercow) has written. Even without claiming he is a paedophile, Bercow's action has easily satisified both those clauses of the law. The law is the law, the interpretation of it is clear.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: How is it defamatory

      You'd need to be a 'Merkin who was unaware of the reports (like I was before reading this article) for any chance at it being an innocent question. And if I were a 'Merkin claiming that as a defense and I included an "innocent smiley face" or worse "angelic smiley face" in my tweet, you'd pretty much have me for perjury were I to make such a claim in court.

  10. gary27

    Britain is pathetic

    This makes me embarressed to be British - Still Massive poverty / Wars / Economic Crisis on a global scale.

    At home we have rubbish education / crap health service / 3rd world roads / poor telecoms / terrible airports / we live in crappy little houses designed by morons - i could go on.

    Yet we focus our energies on silly little tweets or mobile phone messages - they are only words - Will anyone care next year or even next week ? We have become a hyper sensitive pathetic society.

    We need to pay our politicians 10 times more - to attract some leaders with at least half a brain stop - to stop bleeting on about irrelevant nonense such as Mps expenses - its rather expensive to live in London by the way.

    Bbc just failed IT project 100 million - costs more than all mp exps in history i would guess - but daily mail has no sense of any perspective. No wonder we end up with left wing loonies or inbreed toffs - whats more important running a mid sized company or even a council! than getting us out of this mess?

    1. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Britain is pathetic

      It isn't just the Daily Mail that has no sense of perspective.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Britain is pathetic

      > Yet we focus our energies on silly little tweets or mobile phone messages - they are only word

      No "we" do not. The person who has focused their attentions on this is Lord McAlpine.

      The state isn't paying for it. No money is being diverted from education or health service, roads, telecoms. airports or anything else.

      When we reach the point were 2 individuals no longer have the right to contest their differences in a Court I will then be embarrassed to be British.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Britain is pathetic


      Your post is so full of crap, that I can't be bothered to wear out my fingers typing rebuttals to the whole of it. However I will just point out that one injustice still existing does not negate the rectifying of another.

      Bercow could have apologised and settled. She chose not to. McAlpine got his day in court, and justice was done. Which is what the courts are supposed to be for, and one of many reasons one can feel proud to be British, if one so chooses. He (now I guess she) paid for the costs of it, thus having little impact on the education, health, transport, telecoms or any other sectors you may feel need improvement.

      I certainly don't feel it's pathetic to support the rights of a man not to be accused of horrible crimes without justification. I find it more embarrassing to share a society with people who think that spreading that kind of rumour should just be a consequence-free bit of fun. But I'm an optimist about human nature. I look at the apology by George Monbiot, and a few comments from people who thought a bit more deeply about what happened, and I hope that we have improved as a society at least slightly, and maybe some people will be a bit less thoughtless in future. If so, then that could be another reason to be proud of the society in which I live.

    4. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Britain is pathetic

      Should the civil courts then be available only in times of prosperity and a stable society? And when would that be likely to occur?

      As for focusing one's energies, the lawyers, the parties, and courts did focus some part of their energies. The rest of you, I assume, picked up the newspaper, smirked or scowled to register your opinion, and went on about your day.

    5. Tom 13

      Re: Britain is pathetic

      As I stated above, in the US this would be par for the course in politics. And as seems to be the case in this example, it is usually a leftist insinuating something about a conservative. So for me the expectation in this case would be that the accused has to take it like a man, denounce the libel/slander in public, and defend himself as best as he is able given that the media will also be against him.

      So I have to applaud the UK on this one. Here in the States we had a far worse case. We had a District Attorney go after a couple who ran a day care center. The children were coached on how to testify. The couple was convicted and at the time the public was of the opinion that at the very least the key should have been thrown away. Some years later after one of the children had grown up, for some reason they revisited the case and realized what happened. They were legally exonerated, but their lives were ruined. Charges of pedophilia are (thankfully) serious matter to serious people. Those kinds of charges shouldn't be thrown around lightly.

  11. nsld

    The part I dont understand

    Is why the BBC coughed up when they did not name anyone and it was ITV that named the various parties?

    As for Bercow, I guess if she hadnt used the innocent face and simply asked why he was trending it would be a different outcome, the innuendo was pretty clear in what she said.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The part I dont understand

      Because ITV could legitimately claim that nobody watches the program, those that do watch it don't understand it, and even if they did nobody cares what they think.

  12. @Clwydian

    I find this ruling curious. The connection is in the mind of the reader, only if they already know what is being referred to. I dont understand how a message without new information can be damaging. Good job I'm not a judge, I say.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      The connection is in the mind of the reader, only if they already know what is being referred to.

      I think that's how innuendo works. It's sensible that libel law covers defamation by innuendo as well as explicit defamation.

    2. Rampant Spaniel

      I know it could seem a little odd but it's actually a rare case of common sense. If she had posted a genuine question i.e. why is lord m trending on twitter? then she probably couldn't have been touched. More significant than the innuendo was the malice, her little innocent face addendum is what did it for her. It moved it from something that could have been a genuine question into a malicious inference which is covered.

      Libel law is complicated and very expensive to pursue, it is pretty much the realm of the rich. However there is also a huge amount of common sense involved. Her little comment wasn't in any way innocent, nor was it 'pub gossip', it was malicious and she knew it would be widely viewed. If you happened to pass comment to a friend that her down the street has had a lot of plumbers visit in the past few days, even if her down the street was rich she would be unlikely to win a victory. If you wrote it in the local parish paper that she was going behind her husbands back and getting her pipes checked frequently, then she probably would win. fwiw IANAL but I do drink a lot of wine with several. A lot of in law is daft, this is a rare example of common sense. As was noted above, Lord M settled in a very different manner with someone else who behaved in a more sensible manner. SB has shown herself to be a shallow, childish, little meaningless winnet on the arse of society and has been treated as such. Today seems to be one of the good days.

  13. JaitcH

    Doesn't anyone know how to post anoymously any more?

    Silly woman, for want of a few minutes extra time she could have saved herself all that hassle and expense.

    And as for McAlpine, what was a forgettable incident by a bird-brained broad has now become memorable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't anyone know how to post anoymously any more?

      Doesn't anyone know how to post anoymously any more?

      Er, isn't the whole point of Twitter that you're *not* anonymous? Afterall, what would be the point of building up a following if no one knew who you were? Where would the gratification be?

  14. nuked

    This is a terrible decision.

    How is drawing attention to an allegation libellous?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How is drawing attention to an allegation libellous?

      Because it is, at least as far as false or unproven allegations are concerned. That's what the rules, the law, say. And as well as being libellous one might also be held to be in contempt of court (pre trial publicity can make a jury trial unsafe), in which case you can get carted off to jail. And quite right too.

      If you can't live with that you'll have to find another country to live in.

      1. ridley

        "Because it is, at least as far as false or unproven allegations are concerned."

        Where does that leave the police announcing the name of someone being arrested/charged (and the nature of the alleged offence of course) or papers reporting on the same?

        After all they are allegations and are by definition unproven.

        1. Martin Silver badge

          ""Where does that leave the police announcing the name of someone being arrested/charged (and the nature of the alleged offence of course) or papers reporting on the same?"

          At that point, the news media is reporting that the police have arrested someone for a crime, and they have been charged. You can state that, because it's true.

          The point is, that (a) no-one had arrested or charged McAlpine - it was all based on rumour and hearsay and (b) the rumours were completely false.

      2. TkH11

        You can't be held in contempt of court for something like that. Contempt of court occurs if someone fails to comply with an instruction/order from the court.

        It is then for the judge to decide if a criminal prosecution is appropriate ( and judges rarely do this in a civil case), notify the attorney general and then refer the matter to the Police.

        Situations where people have been sent to prison over civil cases - such as Jeffery Archer, Jonathan Aitkin are because at the trial for the civil case ( person A suing person B), they were sworn in under oath and it was later proven they lied under oath, as a consequence they were then criminally prosecuted for the offence of perjury.

        The other offence that applies in civil court cases is 'attempting to pervert the course of justice', this is where you make a witness statement, or other statement which is accompanied by a statement of truth (you have to declare the written statement is entirely truthful) and you have knowingly lied in that statement.

        The civil court can then in theory commence committal proceedings for an attempt to pervert the course of justice, and proceed to criminally prosecute you but rarely do.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An honest question...

    ... from a non-tweeter, non-twatter, whatever...

    What does "trending" in this context mean?

    I mean in the context of the Stupid Cow's tweet, twat, oh... whatever.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: An honest question...

      Increasing traffic.

      For example, more and more people are searching for "anonymous coward" and "trending" on Google.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How is drawing attention to an allegation libellous?

    If libel is "spreading lies", repeating lies to a wider audience is a continuation of the problem. Otherwise a single anonymous lie could be repeated endlessly without the victim of the smear having any way to stop it circulating.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I naively thought that would be a "hiding granny's reading glasses" sort of thing, but it now apparently includes gratifying your own swollen ego by painting someone with modern society's most poisonous smear, entirely ignoring the potentially serious consequences for their reputation (and yours come to that) and physical safety. A sniff of power, eh.

  18. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

    Unacceptable decision

    According to the law you can only ever speak about something you *know* to be true. The world is going to be a damn sight quieter, and more boring.

    1. Martin Silver badge

      Re: Unacceptable decision

      Nonsense. Just as before, you can say more or less what you like at, say, a private dinner party. (Well, even at a dinner party, you should be a bit careful - there is also a law of slander). But you can't publish it to several thousand people in a newspaper or pamphlet - or in the form of a tweet.

    2. TkH11

      Re: Unacceptable decision

      if it is verbal, it is defamation. if it written, it is libel.

      There is no law stopping people from speaking the truth. It has to be untrue for the law to take effect.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: Unacceptable decision

      Being a 'Merkin, I'd draw the line at "know or ought to know to be false" with the reasonable man standard. But I'd say she still crossed that line. And I wish we held public officials on this side of the pond to that standard. So given a choice between our law and UK law, I'd have to pick UK on this one.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Absolutely fucking ridicuolus judgement. Where do we draw the line? Would a tweet that said "Hello Lord McAlpine. :)" be libellous? Would a tweet of simply "Lord McAlpine?" be libellous?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC 27 Mya 2013 15:14 GMT

      Sally is that you? Haven't you already gotten yourself into enough trouble?

      Can we change the Vendetta mask to an innocent face one for ACs?

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021