Swinson wins bid to stop leaflets

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson
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Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has succeeded in a bid to stop the SNP from distributing a leaflet accusing her of being a hypocrite over fracking.

The politician instructed lawyers to go to the Court of Session after learning of an election communication being distributed in East Dunbartonshire constituency.

In the leaflet, Ms Swinson’s SNP rival Amy Callaghan claims the Lib Dem politician is a hypocrite because she accepted a £14,000 donation from a “fracking company”.

However, lawyers acting for Ms Swinson claimed the statement was defamatory. They also sought an order from judge Lord Pentland which would stop the Royal Mail from distributing the leaflet.

Lord Pentland ruled last week in favour of Ms Swinson’s bid. He said Ms Swinson’s lawyers had shown they had a case to show the statement was potentially defamatory.

The leaflets were due to be distributed by the end of this week – just before the deadline for postal votes to be cast.

The court heard that a number of them had already been distributed.

The court heard how the leaflet stated Ms Swinson was a “hypocrite” because she received money from Warwick Energy – the statement claimed Warwick was a “fracking company”.

However, Mr Dunlop said that the £14,000 donation was made in a personal capacity by Mark Petterson, a director of the company, and that Ms Swinson’s constituency office received the cash.

Mr Dunlop said that even although Warwick held licences for fracking it was not engaged in it. The QC added that 80 per cent of the company’s output came from renewable energy sources. He said: “We are in the midst of a general election. The statement that she is a hypocrite is not only inaccurate – it is defamatory at common law.”

Ms Callaghan and the SNP’s lawyer Jonathan Mitchell QC called on Lord Pentland to reject Ms Swinson’s bid. He said knowledge of the donations had been in the public domain for several months.

Mr Mitchell said Ms Swinson recorded the donations in her Parliamentary Register of Interests and the claims contained did not meet the legal test for defamation. He said the hypocrite remark was justified given Ms Swinson’s past public statements in which she said she supported pro-environment government policies. He added: “The allegation is not one of personal conduct or character. It is of her policies. The complaint is about her priorities; her record.”