A TWEET by Commons Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow pointed “the finger of blame” at Tory peer Lord McAlpine during a media frenzy over allegations of child sex abuse, a judge has heard.
Mrs Bercow was at London’s High Court for a hearing to decide the meaning of the allegedly libellous tweet, posted two days after a November Newsnight report wrongly implicated the former Conservative Party treasurer in claims about events at Bryn Estyn children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s.
She has always denied that the tweet – “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*” – was defamatory.
Lord McAlpine says it meant he was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care, and wants damages.
Sir Edward Garnier, QC, told Mr Justice Tugendhat that his case was founded on the circumstances in which Mrs Bercow decided to tweet the peer’s name – the media frenzy over a story that spread “like wildfire”.
“The tweet, by itself, suggests that ‘Lord McAlpine’ has done something wrong. Drawing attention to someone and then adding the expression ‘innocent face’ hints at wrongdoing and negates any suggestion that the tweet was a neutral query to which the defendant was looking for an answer.
“In short, there was a prominent and salacious story in the media, and what was missing was the name at its centre.”
Sir Edward said that, against the backdrop of almost saturation news coverage, Mrs Bercow tweeted Lord McAlpine’s name – a man who fitted the description of the unnamed person at the centre of the controversy.
“What was the tweet about, if it was not pointing the finger of blame at Lord McAlpine?”
Mrs Bercow’s counsel, William McCormick QC, has told the judge that she promptly tweeted her apologies, provided letters apologising for the distress caused and made an offer to settle the case.
The judge reserved his decision to a later unspecified date.