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Riches V. News Group Newspapers Notes

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RICHES V. NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS FACTS The defendants are the proprietors and publishers of the "News of the World," a national newspaper with a very large circulation in England and Wales. They appeal against a jury's award of exemplary damages amounting to PS250,000, which they were ordered to pay to 10 police officers by Comyn J. on 9 February 1984 for libel contained in an article which they published in every edition of their newspaper on 16 July 1978. The police officers' action took a long time to come to trial, largely through an unfortunate misunderstanding on the part of their solicitors and through no fault of the defendants or their advisers. It originated in a letter to the defendants, written on his behalf and signed by one David John Brain of his own free will according to its postscript, and received by them as long ago as 12 July 1978. The letter stated that he was the father of the missing child Mark Brain (who had been taken from his mother's home in Oxford) and pleaded with the defendants to help them in a case where he was being accused and charged with offences against his wife; offences of raping and badly treating his wife which had, he alleged, been committed by the Banbury C.I.D.; that strong evidence against Banbury C.I.D. had gone missing, apparently because of a sexual approach by a detective whom he named, and that his wife was too terrified to give evidence against certain C.I.D. officers of Banbury. He said that the newspapers and A10 (Scotland Yard's Police Discipline Department) were the only ones that could help and prove his innocence and on the sixth page of what was a rather rambling letter he said he would get in touch with the defendants once his story had been printed and would give the address of Mark and himself and the names of the witnesses. It made copious extracts from the letter, including its allegations against the Banbury C.I.D., but omitted the name of the officer mentioned in the letter. It ended with quotations from what the reporter had been told by Mr. Colin Smith, assistant chief constable of Thames Valley Police - that Brain's words kept changing from relatively calm to quite agitated and the police were "making a thorough investigation of the allegations in the letter sent to the 'News of the World.'" The article was not advertised by placard or poster or on television, but it appeared on the front page of every copy in every edition under the heading in very large heavy type: "Exclusive: Siege man tells us why he did it." Claimant's allegation: "The plaintiffs hereby give notice that at the trial of this action they will invite the court to award exemplary damages on the basis that the defendants published the words

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