Lord McAlpine drops some Twitter defamation cases

Former Tory chairman to halt actions against tweeters with fewer than 500 followers and will focus on case against Sally Bercow

Lord McAlpine is ending his legal pursuit of hundreds of Twitter users over false allegations linking him to child sex abuse in return for donations to Children In Need.

In a statement on Thursday, the former Conservative party chairman said he was drawing a line under potential legal actions against Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers – but vowed to focus on claiming libel damages from Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons speaker, over her allegedly defamatory tweets.

"Whilst I reached a settlement last year with both the BBC and ITV, I would like to now draw this unfortunate episode, forced into my life, to a close," said McAlpine.

"I have dropped all claims against those tweeters with less than 500 followers, in return for a very modest donation to BBC Children In Need, which funds 2,600 projects supporting disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.

"I have requested that my lawyers, RMPI LLP, focus on the action against Sally Bercow and that damages arising from this are donated to a charity of her choice. I am not intending to make any further comment on this matter."

McAlpine has described how he was "consigned to the lowest circle of hell" by the mass Twitter libel, which was sparked by the BBC's disastrous Newsnight report on 2 November 2012. Although the BBC2 programme did not name McAlpine, it prompted a guessing game on social networks that led to the peer being falsely tarred as a paedophile.

At the height of the Twitter frenzy, Bercow tweeted to her 56,000 followers: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" and later added: "Final on McAlpine: am VERY sorry for inadvertently fanning flames. But I tweet as me, forgetting that to some of u I am Mrs bloody Speaker."

On 15 November, after McAlpine threatened to sue Twitter users who had named him, Bercow wrote: "*Gulps*." She added: "I guess I'd better get some legal advice then. Still maintain was not a libellous tweet — just foolish."

McAlpine is seeking £50,000 in damages from Bercow in a dispute likely to become one of the first high court libel trials over Twitter posts. The BBC and ITV have already agreed to pay the Tory peer damages of £185,000 and £125,000 respectively, plus a total of nearly £200,000 in legal costs.

His lawyers are in the process of contacting about 500 Twitter users over messages they posted about the peer. A spokeswoman for McAlpine declined to reveal how many had made the £25 donation to Children in Need.

His solicitor, Andrew Reid, told MediaGuardian in December that close to 1,000 people had written to apologise over their online comments after lawyers identified 10,000 potentially defamatory tweets.

Some high-profile tweeters, including the Guardian columnist George Monbiot and comedian Alan Davies, swiftly apologised to McAlpine after he vowed to take action.

However, Bercow has consistently denied that her tweets were libellous and has hired the London law firm Carter-Ruck to defend her against the claim.

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Josh Halliday

The GuardianTramp

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