Memorandum submitted by Alan Dee
Evidence was given to the Select Committee on Tuesday, 24th February 2008 to the effect that my son, Robert Dee, employed a firm of solicitors to sue the Reuters News Agency on a "no win no fee" basis. This information is incorrect. The straight meaning of this comment is that there was no financial risk to Robert Dee, or his family, if he lost. That too is incorrect.
We instructed our lawyers, Addleshaw Goddard, to instigate proceedings against three news organisations at the same time. They were The Independent Newspaper, Associated Newspapers, (consisting of The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard) and Reuters Limited. All the articles had a similar thrust, appeared within a few days of each other and contained similar claims in respect of our Son's tennis results and status as a tennis professional. Once the actions had been commenced we were notified that Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) had been appointed to represent all three organisations.
Once the three actions had been commenced, The Independent immediately agreed to publish an apology and did so on 6th August 2008. As a result of this very quick resolution the costs they paid to our lawyers were negligible. Very soon afterwards, Associated Newspapers made an "Offer of Amends" in respect of The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and The Evening Standard, effectively bringing that action to an end also. And after some negotiation on the wording Associated published apologies in The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard and online in The Mail on Sunday on 22nd December 2008. Associated also made a contribution to our costs.
Our actions were only partially funded with a 50 per cent conditional fee arrangement, which meant that had we lost we would have been liable for at least 50 per cent of our costs. At that time, we were given a very conservative indication as to our likely costs exposure in the event of losing these actions of somewhere in the region of £200,000 per case; potentially £600,000 in total had all three cases proceeded to trial and we lost. That did not of course include our additional liability for the media's costs if we had lost.
We are very surprised that a representative from RPC, Mr. Keith Mathieson, gave evidence to the select committee to the effect that Robert Dee was the beneficiary of a "no win no fee" CFA, as this is plainly wrong. Particularly as we are aware that RPC had been informed by Addleshaw Goddard some time before the select committee hearing that they do not operate on a "no win no fee" basis. It was never the case that we had nothing to lose by bringing the case.
Mr. Mathieson also said that Reuters apologised only because of the level of costs, not because they felt the story was wrong. It is a matter of fact that a number of newspapers had already published apologies for printing very similar stories, including four titles represented by RPC. We are very surprised also that this was not mentioned to the select committee.
In our case, we are quite certain that without access to the facility of a 50 per cent CFA and an ATE insurance policy to cover our potential liability for Reuters' legal costs if we had lost at trial we would have found it almost impossible to fund our action against Reuters. An action that was regrettable but, we felt, unavoidable; an action which did eventually generate an apology.
Finally, it is worth comparing the stance taken by Reuters with that of the majority of newspapers which we complained to, many of which quickly recognised that their story was incorrect and damaging and agreed to apologise and pay our legal costs, which in those cases were generally around £2,000 to £3,000, without the need to start legal proceedings at all. Had Reuters been similarly reasonable at the outset, then they would not have faced the very much more substantial bill which they now face.
To that extent, media organisations which complain about having to pay the substantial legal costs of a successful claimant are the authors of their own misfortune.
If you wish to have more information on the media apologies published so far about Robert Dee they appear on his website at www.robertdee.co.uk. We shall be happy to provide you with any additional information you require and to appear before members of the committee to answer questions in person if you wish.
We would be grateful if all the members of the select committee have sight of this e-mail and that the record if set straight accordingly.