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Newspaper pays 'substantial' damages for expenses libel

A south coast weekly has paid “substantial” damages and apologised to a local councillor for libelling him.

On 29 May, the week before this year’s local elections, the Hastings Observer published a story relating to the expenses claims of Councillor Peter Jones, leader of East Sussex County Council.

The front page story, entitled ‘Protest over Councillor’s £91k expenses’, suggested that Coun Jones had claimed an “exorbitant and unjustified” £91,000 in expenses over a one-year period between 2006 and 2007.

In reality, Coun Jones had actually claimed £5,291 during that year.

The remaining money was earned through four different positions he held with four separate public bodies – East Sussex County Council, the South East England Development Agency, the Audit Commission and the Police Authority.

In its apology, the Observer wrote: “We accept that the allegations contained in the article were untrue and misleading and we apologise to Coun Jones for the distress and embarrassment our publication caused him.

“We have agreed to pay Cllr Jones a substantial sum in libel damages.”