History,  Trots

The Daily Telegraph, Corin Redgrave and a Libel Case

Gene reminds of an interesting saga in the history of the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Trotskyist party that Corin Redgrave and his sister Vanessa devoted many years of their lives to. This was the story that Irene Gorst gave to The Observer in September 1975 where she informed the paper that she had been held hostage at White Meadows Villa in Derbyshire. This property was, according to The Observer (September 28, 1975), purchased by Corin Redgrave, who was “acting as a buyer for the Workers Revolutionary Party.” The WRP used the property as their education centre. Gene has extracted the details from Nick Cohen’s, What’s Left? and as I am familiar with both the original press reports and Nick Cohen’s account, I can certainly say that Nick fairly reports on the matter.

Corin Redgrave died yesterday and the Daily Telegraph has published an obituary on its web site.  This obituary states:

The party gained notoriety in the 1970s when police raided its training school, White Meadows, searching for weapons. The raid yielded five bullets and became a cause célèbre, with the Redgraves claiming a frame-up and suing The Observer for libel. They won the case, but had to pay the costs and were denounced as extremists by the likes of Lord Olivier.

This is incorrect.  It is certainly true that the Redgraves believed they had been framed-up and it is true that they sued The Observer for libel as a result of the article that  contained Irene Gorst’s revelations. What is not true is that the Redgraves won the case. The opposite is true: they lost the case. The case came to court in October-November 1978. The jury were posed three questions and  The Times reported these questions with the jury’s response on November 13, 1978:

Are the words complained of defamatory of the plaintiffs? – Yes.

Are all the words complained of substantially true? – No.

If all the words complained of are not substantially true, do the words which are not true materially injure the reputation of the plaintiffs? – No.

This report in The Times quoted an article that appeared the previous day in The Observer:

The fact of the matter is that The Observer won the case and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party lost it. They accused The Observer of libel and the jury found against them.

The general truth of The Observer’s allegations against the WRP – that they held an actress, Miss Irene Gorst, against her will at their school in Derbyshire, interrogated her, and reduced her to hysteria – was apparently accepted by the jury.

Donald Trelford, the Editor of The Observer, elaborated on this in a letter published in The Times on November 14, 1978:

The jury did not find that The Observer article was “wrong” about its chief revelations about Miss Irene Gorst’s experiences at the hands of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. It found, when asked directly, that not all the words in the article were proved; but the jury went on to find that, having regard to the truth of the major part of the article, such words as were unproved did not materially injure the reputation of the plaintiffs.

In short, the jury found that the article was in part true and in part unproved, but the part that was unproved, was unimportant in relation to the article as a whole. It was for this reason that The Observer won the case and the plaintiffs lost it. Had the verdict been that the significant facts in the article were wrong … then the result would have been the other way round.

Immediately after the trial, the Redgraves launched a £70,000 appeal to pay for the costs associated with this libel action. Even Vanessa Redgrave conceded (Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography, [Arrow Books, 1992], p.219) “We lost the case.”

The Daily Telegraph is also incorrect in stating that “five bullets” were located at the Red House. In fact, nine bullets were located. (Guardian, October 31, 1978 and Guardian November 10, 1978).

I am surprised that the Daily Telegraph has not checked its facts.