U.K. Lawmaker’s Wife Bercow Loses Case Over Pedophile Comment

Alistair McAlpine, the former U.K. politician wrongly identified as a pedophile by the BBC, won a libel lawsuit in London against Sally Bercow, the wife of the U.K. House of Commons speaker.

Bercow’s post on her Twitter page linking him to the story was defamatory, Judge George Tugendhat said in his ruling today. Bercow settled the dispute with McAlpine for an undisclosed amount, his lawyers said in a statement today.

“I find that the Tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the claimant was a pedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care,” the judge said.

Bercow, who is married to John Bercow, wrote a Twitter post in November asking why McAlpine, a member of the British House of Lords, was popular on the website. The BBC apologized and agreed to pay McAlpine, a former Conservative Party treasurer, 185,000 pounds ($280,000) over the story last year. Before the broadcaster retracted the story, McAlpine was the subject of thousands of tweets linking him to the story.

“The judgment shows the importance of choosing your words carefully when tweeting,” Niri Shan, a media lawyer at Taylor Wessing LLP who is not involved in the case, said in an e-mail.

Bercow apologized today for distress she caused to McAlpine.

“To say I’m surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement,” she said in a statement. “However, I will accept the ruling as the end of the matter.”

A lawyer for McAlpine, Andrew Reid, said the “failure of Mrs. Bercow to admit that her tweet was defamatory caused considerable unnecessary pain and suffering” to McAlpine and his family.

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