March 2003


Guitar legend Bert Weedon has won damages from the BBC over a false claim that he “learned to play the guitar whilst a convict.” His appearance in the libel case was a first time in court for the 82-year-old despite allegations to the contrary in the Daily Mail where a radio preview wrongly included Bert with musicians who had spent spells in prison.

The Radio Choice review for Jailhouse Rock incorrectly stated that “even gentle guitar guru Bert Weedon” is among the many popular music figures who has spent time in prison. Mr Weedon said: “A friend phoned me up and said ‘have you read the radio review in the Daily Mail?’. “I have never been in prison. I am known in show business as “Mr Clean”. I have never taken drugs, I have never drunk heavily and I have never been involved in any scandal.” The Daily Mail said the report was based on a BBC press release and the broadcasting company apologised for the “distress and embarrassment” caused. Mr Weedon’s solicitor, Simon Smith said: “It may not always be fashionable in the rock music world but my client is rightly proud of his unblemished past and does not want that legacy damaged.”
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COMMENT : The classic definition of defamation in the UK was set out in Sim -v- Stretch (1936) as a statement which ‘lowers the plaintiff in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally’. A simpler definition is that a defamatory statement is one which exposes the plaintiff to ‘hatred, ridicule or contempt’. Clearly, falsely stating that a person of good character had been a convict falls within both of these definitions. There are two main defences used by the press in cases of libel; (a) Justification – the statement was true in substance and in fact and (b) ‘fair comment’ – for comments made on matters of public interest which are fair and made without malice. Clearly neither defence would apply to Bert Weedon’s case and here the BBC accepted that they had libelled Mr Weedon and apologised to him.

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