Sally Bercow faces first high court hearing in Twitter libel battle

Commons speaker's wife sued by Lord McAlpine over allegedly defamatory tweet wrongly linking him to child sex abuse

Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons speaker, faces her first high court hearing next week as part of the libel battle with Lord McAlpine over an allegedly defamatory Twitter message.

Lawyers for Bercow and McAlpine will appear before a high court judge for the first time on Tuesday to scrutinise a tweet that wrongly linked the former Tory chairman to an allegation of child sex abuse.

It is the first high court hearing in the saga that began in November last year following an inaccurate Newsnight report, which prompted Bercow to tweet: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*".

Neither McAlpine nor Bercow are expected to attend the preliminary hearing on Tuesday, when a senior judge will decide whether the case should go to a full trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London later this year.

It is understood that Bercow is opposing an attempt by McAlpine to have the trial split into two parts, potentially dragging the high court battle out over several months.

The Tory peer wants a senior judge to decide first whether Bercow's tweet was defamatory and damaging to his reputation. If the court decides in McAlpine's favour, he wants the judge to decide at a later hearing how much Bercow should have to pay in damages.

A source close to McAlpine said there was "no good reason" for Bercow's law firm, Carter-Ruck, to fight the move to have a two-part trial. "It makes sense both in terms of cost saving and court time," they said.

Bercow is yet to speak publicly about the libel battle, but said in court papers that McAlpine had been "effectively vindicated" since the Twitter row. She apologised publicly to McAlpine in four tweets between 9 and 12 November and in private letters on 21 November.

McAlpine recouped a total of £310,000 from the BBC and ITV for their part in the mass libel in November, and several other Twitter users have made a small donation to charity. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot pledged to do three years of charity work amounting to £25,000 over a tweet that he posted. McAlpine is still reportedly pursuing the comedian Alan Davies over his online message.

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Josh Halliday

The GuardianTramp

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