Morrissey wins right to sue NME for libel

November 2011


Morrissey has won the right to let a jury decide if the NME portrayed him as a ‘racist and blatant hypocrite’ four years ago The former Smiths frontman was granted his wish for the libel case to be heard after he won at a pre-trial hearing against Conor McNicholas, the former NME editor, and the magazine’s publisher, IPC Media, in the High Court. In a written judgment, Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “Overall, in my judgment a proper balance between the Article 10 right of freedom of expression of [the NME] and Mr Morrissey’s right to the protection of his individual reputation requires, in the circumstances of this case, that the action be permitted to proceed.” The magazine had resisted the trial on the basis that the delay in brining proceedings showed that the singer was “not really interested” but after the hearing an NME spokeswoman said: “NME recently sought to strike out Morrissey’s claim on grounds of a lengthy delay. After almost four years, we are glad that the matter will now proceed to trial and we will finally get the opportunity to bring this matter to a close.” Mr Justice Tugendhat said that Morrissey’s explanation of why it had taken four years to bring the claim to court was “credible”. Morrissey described how he had been left financially crippled by an acrimonious fallout with his then manager, Merck Mercuriadis, in May 2008 which left the singer owing substantial sums of money. Mr Justice Tugendhat also described the “imputation” from the NME magazine articles as a “very serious one”. He added that the four-year delay, between publication of the interview and the eventual trial, was not so great as to prejudice a fair trial saying “these are unusual circumstances in which to ask a court to strike out a libel action and I decline to do so”. Morrissey has claimed NME “deliberately twisted” his words to make him appear racist although the row between NME and Morrissey stretches back almost two decades, after the magazine accused the singer in 1992 of “flirting with disaster” and racist imagery after he performed draped in a union flag at a Finsbury Park concert. In the 2007 interview, headlined “Morrissey bigmouth strikes again” Morrissey was quoted as saying that “the gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away.” Asked by the interviewer whether he would return to live in Britain, Morrissey is quoted as saying: “With the issue of immigration, it’s very difficult because, although I don’t have anything against people from other countries,the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. McNicholas said in his witness statement that he was “very concerned” about the prospect of having to recall editorial judgments made in 2008. In an interesting aside Mr Justice Tugendhat said the case was one that might be “susceptible to resolution” before it reaches trial, but it remains to be seen whether Morrissey will now wait for his day in court. The High Court trial is expected to begin in mid 2012. The trial is expected to consider over 250 emails between McNicholas, his then deputy editor Krissi Murison-Hodge, the interviewer Tim Jonze and Mercuriadis, sent before and after the interview.

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