Libel Laws

The End of the Dreyfus Affair

Socialist Unity has published the following apology:

On 25 June 2008 we published a posting, by Andy Newman, entitled “J’accuse! — the Dreyfus Affair”. This posting included a copy of a letter Mr George Galloway MP had sent to the RT Hon Jacqui Smith the Home Secretary, identifying Inspector Christopher Dreyfus as an agent provocateur at an anti-war demonstration in Parliament Square on 15 June 2008.

Mr Galloway said that he had observed Inspector Dreyfus commit various crimes, including incitement to violence, attempted assault on a police officer and several serious public order offences. He called upon the Home Secretary to conduct an inquiry into Inspector Dreyfus’ behaviour. Our posting called upon readers to comment on Mr Galloway’s letter. We made clear that Inspector Dreyfus denied the allegations.

We understand that, as a result of Mr Galloway’s letter, the matter has been comprehensively investigated by the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police, and that their findings have been reviewed by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The investigations did not substantiate Ms Whittaker-Khan’s story or the allegations in Mr Galloway’s letter. The CPS has confirmed that there is no case to answer.

We now accept that Christopher Dreyfus was not present at the demonstration and did not engage in any of the criminal behaviour referred to in Ms Whittaker-Khan’s story or Mr Galloway’s letter. We apologize to him for the damage caused to his reputation.

I won’t link to a copy of the defamatory article. You can find it yourself, if you’d like.

Although it gives me a certain degree of pleasure to see George Galloway – a man who funds his lifestyle by suing his political opponents – at the other end of a libel writ, I don’t feel that way at all about Andy Newman and his blog, Socialist Unity.

I expect that Andy got himself caught up in this business as follows. The story began with an article by Yasmin Whittaker-Khan in the Mail on Sunday. I don’t know anything about Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, other than that she makes her living writing plays and confessional articles in tabloids. She was evidently convinced that a man who was acting as an agent provocateur was a police officer, who she knew vaguely. George Galloway was convinced by the story, and so wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, which was published widely on far Left websites. Andy Newman, as a Galloway supporter, trusted the politician’s judgement, and also published the story.

I assume that, at some point, Dreyfus took the decision to sue. His principal targets would have been the Mail on Sunday, and Galloway. But, if he took action against those persons, his attention would have turned to Socialist Unity, where the debate on Dreyfus was raging.

I participated in that debate, and – if I remember correctly – expressed the view that it was extremely unlikely that Galloway was right about Dreyfus. Others took a similar line, while the more paranoid posters countered our commonsensical – and correct – assessment.

I think that it is incredibly valuable – politically – to have sites like Socialist Unity which allow for this sort of debate. We should be fast to correct errors when they are pointed out. We should allow the arguments we publish to be challenged. But nonsense is best disposed of in the clear light of day. And, to be frank, it is extremely difficult for websites like Harry’s Place, or Socialist Unity to exist, if they’re plagued by libel threats.

How to balance the public interest in free debate against the interests of police officers, not to have their reputations destroyed?

Dreyfus is certainly due a correction and an apology. I hope that this is all that was asked for from Andy, and I would expect that it was freely given. It would be a shame if Andy had to pay damages as well: and if he did so, I’d happily contribute to make up his loss.

By contrast, George Galloway should have to dig deep into his pocket. I wonder if he has.