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Tell Withers LLP where to stick it – UK law firm in new “Contempt of Parliament” libel abuse scandal

with 4 comments

Tell Withers LLP where to stick it

UPDATE – MPs vote unanimously to investigate Withers LLP for “Contempt of Parliament”.

In line with our absolute right to report on the proceedings of Parliament (I’m going here with what the government says, rather than Carter Ruck’s questionable opinion), I am reproducing a “Private and confidential” email sent by Withers LLP to John Hemming MP, demanding that he undertake not to repeat an allegation that he has previously made against their (un-named) client “particularly in Parliament”.

The Speaker John Bercow has made the rather savvy move of publishing this threatening email in the Parliamentary record, which means that it ain’t “Private and Confidential” any more, and we are all free to quote from it.

Law firms who attack the sovereignty of Parliament are engaging in political activity, and therefore, in my view, making themselves fair game for peaceful political protest. I’d be interested in hearing any ideas readers might have on this – in the meantime perhaps a good start would be for as many people as possible to reproduce Withers’ “Private and Confidential” email on their own blogs…

From Hansard:

Subject: Private and Confidential

Dear Mr Hemming

Thank you for your various e-mails yesterday. My client’s response to the points which you have raised in these and earlier correspondence is as follows.

1.The original leaflet and offending text

It is abundantly clear that the offending text referred to, and would have been understood by those reading it to refer to, our client. You have alleged that the compulsory purchase order (CPO) proceedings involve other parties. However, it is clear from Councillor David Osborne’s evidence given to the public inquiry on 14 July 2009 that he was not aware of any other parties who owned plots or who were objecting to Tesco’s proposals and presenting alternative proposals other than our client. Asda and Sainsburys had already sold their land to Tesco. It is clear from the context of the offending text that you were only referring to plots of land which are part of the CPO and only the plots owned by our client. Even though he was not specifically named, he was clearly identifiable to the thousands of people to whom you distributed your defamatory and maliciously false leaflet.

You were clearly wrong to say that our client purchased his plots with the intention of delaying the Tesco development, as you now admit. Moreover, we do not agree that a landowner objecting to a CPO of his land and who has made very serious alternative proposals for redevelopment can he be guilty of “spoiling tactics” and this defamatory and maliciously false allegation is strongly objected to by our client.

In order to settle this matter we, therefore, require an apology in respect of both the serious allegations plus payment of our client’s costs, a substantial payment to a charity of his choice and an undertaking not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations, particularly in Parliament.

Your threat to make a statement in the House of Commons referring to our client’s alleged “spoiling tactics” in this and other situations and that our client’s threatened proceedings amount to “bullying and an attempt to gag opponents” is tantamount to blackmail. These allegations are untrue as our client is only trying to put right a serious wrong to his reputation. We note that you would only make these allegations under the cover of parliamentary privilege. My client objects very strongly to you doing this and would ensure, via other sources, that the House of Commons were fully appraised of the true situation and not misled.

We deny that our client has been involved in any “spoiling tactics” at the Swan, Maypole or in Worcester. He certainly does not have, as you claim, a track record of “spoiling tactics”. By making such allegations you are clearly aggravating the damages which you will now have to pay to a charity of our client’s choice.

You say that you have spent time meeting my client and talking about the Swan development. Notwithstanding, it seems that you have failed to understand what my client is trying to achieve.

All that my client wants is to vindicate his reputation as swiftly as possible. However, if a suitable correction and apology, costs, damages and an undertaking not to repeat these or any similar defamatory and maliciously false allegations cannot swiftly be agreed, he will have no alternative but to issue proceedings.

We obviously also need to discuss how quickly you can circulate your apology around the constituency. Clearly this will have to be done much more quickly than your usual six weekly cycle in order to alleviate the continuing harm to our client’s reputation.

Meanwhile, could you please inform us, as we requested in our original letter of 29 July 2009, how many copies of the offending text were distributed; who wrote the offending text; who authorised its publication; who published it; and the date of issue.

2.Alternative wording to those to whom the original leaflet was not delivered

As previously indicated today, our client has no objection to replace the offending text with the new text set out in your e-mail of yesterday’s date sent at 12.32 pm.

Yours sincerely,

Withers LLP]

Written by Richard Wilson

January 14, 2010 at 10:55 am

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks for taking the risk (?) of reproducing this

    George Hale

    January 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    • Hopefully there’s no risk – or else Parliamentary democracy is in even more trouble than we thought…

      Richard Wilson

      January 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  2. Here’s my (totally naïve) understanding of the law with regards to letters (and, I’d assume, any other text or works sent from one person to another): copyright is held by the writer but, in the absence of other agreement, the recipient is under no obligation to keep the contents confidential. Do you know if this is wrong or incomplete?

    If it’s right, and assuming Mr Hemming had not made any confidentiality agreement with Withers LLP, then publication in Hansard would make no difference to the confidentiality of this letter; it could already be as public as Mr Hemming might choose to make it.

    The effect on copyright is more interesting or, at least, it would be if there was any commercial value in the contents worth suing over.

    Ed Davies

    January 15, 2010 at 11:13 pm

  3. It would appear, according to the petition in the link below, that in spite of the Contempt of Parliament ruling Withers Worldwide continues to attempt to intimidate into silence those whose opinions don’t deserve their purpose. In this case it is a former client of Withers who paid them a substantial amount in fees.


    December 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

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