Tim Yeo evidence in libel action 'untrue and dishonest', says judge


A judge has dismissed former MP Tim Yeo's libel action over a "cash-for-advocacy" claim and called his evidence untrue and dishonest.

Mr Yeo, who was seeking substantial compensation, said his reputation was damaged by articles in the Sunday Times which followed a lunch with two journalists from the Insight team posing as representatives for a solar energy concern in the Far East.

They alleged that he was prepared to, and offered to, act in a way that was in breach of the Commons code of conduct by acting as a paid parliamentary advocate who would push for new laws to benefit the business of a client for a daily fee of £7,000 and approach ministers, civil servants and other MPs to promote a client's private agenda in return for cash.

They also contained comment to the effect that the ex-Tory MP had shown willing to abuse his position to further his own financial and business interests.

Times Newspapers said the June 2013 publications were true, fair comment and responsible journalism on matters of public interest.

After Mr Justice Warby dismissed the case at London's High Court, Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said: "This is a victory for investigative journalism. It vindicates the role of the press in exposing the clandestine advocacy by MPs for undisclosed interests."

He added: "The Sunday Times's Insight team has a long history of reporting on the conduct of politicians and is proud to have forced reform of standards in public life.

"This case has emphasised the essential role of newspapers in disclosing wrongdoing. It is good to see the courts recognise that journalism carried out in good faith is vital to a healthy democracy."

Mr Yeo, 70, who represented South Suffolk for more than 30 years until the last election and was chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, was not in court to hear the judge say that some of his evidence was "utterly implausible" and he did not present "convincingly".

The judge said he was unable to accept Mr Yeo's evidence that he had forgotten a reference in an email to a "generous remuneration package".

"I accept that Mr Yeo is genuinely interested in green technology, and that he has given advice and help to some in this field without seeking or accepting any material reward.

"However, the May 13 email was short and clear. It was plainly suggesting a consultancy with generous remuneration. It is not credible that this was not present to Mr Yeo's mind at all.

"Experience suggests that in general those who are not interested in money tend not to get much. I can think of none who convincingly claim to have no interest in money, yet end up with an annual income in excess of £200,000.

"I do not consider that Mr Yeo is such a person. In my judgment this evidence was untrue. I am not persuaded that it was honest either."

He said Mr Yeo went to the meeting knowing that its purpose was to discuss the prospect of a consultancy, involving work for which the client was prepared to pay generously.

It was a preliminary meeting but the important point is what it was preliminary to, the judge said.

"To a man as intelligent as Mr Yeo that cannot have been in doubt. It was preliminary to a job, for payment."

Branding Mr Yeo's evidence on whether he appreciated that lobbying was being sought as "unreliable and untruthful", the judge said Mr Yeo had twisted and turned in his attempt to escape the obvious.

"When a fish wriggles on a hook, it goes deeper into the mouth and guarantees that the fish will not escape."