'Gorgeous George' has his day in court

GEORGE Galloway, the rebel MP, accepted undisclosed damages and a public apology from the Christian Science Monitor newspaper yesterday, over an article it published alleging that he took money from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime.

As seems fitting with a man who earned the sobriquet "The Libel King" following a string of such disputes, he is expected to use his latest win - a reported 96,000 - to fight a similar action against the Daily Telegraph.

It also emerged yesterday - in what was an entirely separate dispute - that Mr Galloway is to receive another payment, rumoured to be in the region of 50,000, and an apology from The Times after he complained that columnist Julie Burchill confused him with a Scottish MP who she claimed stole a pair of knickers from his former girlfriend.

Julia Schopflin, a lawyer for the Boston-based newspaper publishers the First Church of Christ, Scientist, told the High Court in London yesterday that it accepted as false the allegations in the article of 25 April, 2003. Ms Schopflin, who also represented Paul Van Slambrouck, the Christian Science Monitor’s editor, said that it had been published in good faith from documents they believed to be genuine but now accepted were forgeries. "It deeply regrets that the article was published and again offers its sincere apologies to Mr Galloway," she said.

After discovering that the Iraqi general who provided the documents may have been the source of other fakes, the paper investigated, then ran a piece in June accepting that they were forgeries and apologising to Mr Galloway. Outside court the independent MP for Glasgow Kelvin said he was "very happy" with the amount but refused to comment on estimates, other than to say it was "substantial".

He said Baghdad was "the forgery capital of the world" and that the settlement showed a dirty tricks operation had been mounted against him. He called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to order an investigation to discover who forged these documents.

The Christian Science Monitor article alleged that the MP had received payments of more than US$10 million from the Iraqi regime. One document was reported as stating that the payments were for his "courageous and daring stands against the enemies of Iraq, like Blair... and for his opposition in the House of Commons and Lords against all outrageous lies against our patient people".

"The allegations were highly defamatory of Mr Galloway," his lawyer, Mark Bateman, told the court. "Understandably, they caused immense distress and anxiety to Mr Galloway, his family, his constituents and supporters."

Mr Galloway, an anti-war campaigner who was thrown out of the Labour Party after he likened Mr Blair and the US president, George Bush, to "wolves", is limbering up for his action against the Telegraph in November.

In a remarkably similar story, a Daily Telegraph article in April, headlined "Galloway was in Saddam’s pay, say secret Iraqi documents", reported how files suggested he took oil earnings worth 375,000 a year - allegations he vigorously denied.

Mr Galloway has now earned an estimated 350,000 in damages from legal actions, some of which have been settled out of court. His most notable success was in 1992, a 150,000 pay-out after the Daily Mirror and Daily Record accused him of abusing his parliamentary privilege by stating that Robert Maxwell, the papers’ former owner, had links with Israeli intelligence.

COURT CRUSADE

GEORGE Galloway’s libel crusade through the courts has proved to be extremely successful.

His first and biggest pay-out came in December 1992, when he successfully sued the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record or 250,000, after they printed editorials accusing him of exploiting and abusing parliamentary privilege and alleging that he had links with an Arab terrorist organisation.

The award included 155,000 in damages, plus costs.

In March 1996, Mr Galloway received an unreserved apology and undisclosed libel damages from the publishers of the London Evening Standard over an article that questioned his financial affairs. The newspaper accepted the article, which appeared under the headline Do tell us how you do it, George, had made allegations which were without foundation.

The same story was then published by the Arab newspaper Al Hayat , which circulates in the Middle East and the UK, resulting in a second action three months later, which he also won.

Mr Galloway said at the time: "I will not be lied about, and it’s about time journalists realised that."

A second Arab language paper, Al-Ahram International, also found itself the subject of a libel claim when, in 1999, it described Mr Galloway as one of the most prominent supporters of terrorism in parliament. As a result of this smear, which he described as a "reckless, baseless and potentially life-threatening", the MP was awarded 35,000 in damages.