Saturday, February 01, 2020

Daily Mail pays millions in damages for defamatory article targeting British-Pakistani man

Journalist David Rose (left) and Wajed Iqbal (right). Photo: Geo News

LONDON/MANCHESTER: British news publication Daily Mail will pay millions of rupees in damages after reaching an out-of-court settlement with British-born Pakistani taxi licencing officer Wajed Iqbal, whom it had falsely accused of participating in a child sex ring.

Iqbal had been wrongfully accused of acting as a “fixer” for paedophile taxi drivers in an article written by journalist David Rose and published by the British news publication back in May 2017. 

The British-Pakistani taxi licencing officer on Thursday succeeded in securing damages from Associated Newspaper Limited (ANL) – the publishers of the Daily Mail, Mail Online and the Mail on Sunday. 

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The development came around the same time as former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif held a press conference at the Carter-Ruck law firm's offices to announce that he too was filing a case against Rose and the ANL for defamation.

Rose, in an article published by the British news publication last year, had accused Shehbaz of corrupting the UK's Department of International Development funds and laundering money to the UK. 

Racist accusations

Defamation law specialist Mark Lewis of Patron Law, who is based in Southern Israel and London, and represented Wajed Iqbal, told in an exclusive interview the details of the case won by Iqbal. 

Wajed Iqbal after winning the case. Photo: Geo News

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He said his client won the landmark case as an out-of-court settlement was reached with the Mail group ahead of the start of a formal trial scheduled for April 2020 at the London High Court.

“I cannot avoid reaching the conclusion that the Mail on Sunday chose to defame Wajed Iqbal because he is a Muslim. They believed their own article, they chose to defend saying it was true," Lewis said.

"It wasn’t and they were forced to drop their defence. This was a classic case of anti-Muslim bigotry by a mainstream publisher to their very substantial readership. Regrettably, that readership has been misled into a prejudiced position," he added. 

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"Newspapers have a responsibility to tell the truth to their readers, when truth is the casualty, the subject of the story is the victim," maintained Lewis, who is based both in Southern Israel and London. 

The scandal and the story

In the story headlined “Scandal of the mini-cab predators”, the Mail on Sunday had alleged that Iqbal, a junior taxi-licencing official at South Ribble borough council, was responsible for renewing the licence of a local driver called John O’Sullivan. 

Sullivan had been found guilty of assaulting an autistic child by tying him up on a school run. The paper then went further by linking him, without any proof, with the much bigger scandal of sex grooming by Asian men. 

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The paper claimed that in his previous job, Iqbal was a “fixer” for taxi drivers in Rochdale “at a time when some local drivers were raping underage girls as members of pedophile rings”.

Wajed Iqbal after the out-of-court settlement. Photo: Geo News

The Mail on Sunday story had accused Iqbal of giving licences to taxi drivers of the same background to work in Rochdale at a time when they were sexually abusing children. 

The scandal was famously linked with Asian men, mainly Pakistani-origin men, who were accused in the English press of exploiting vulnerable, underage English girls in what became known as the Rochdale grooming gang scandal. 

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Wajed Iqbal, 44, had sued Mail on Sunday stating that his life had been ruined by the defamatory article, leaving him reliant on anti-depressants, jobless, and prevented from seeing his children. 

He had told the court that the Mail on Sunday picked on him because of his Pakistani heritage, his racial background - linking him with a disgusting scandal to create a false story.

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It’s understood that total case cost to Mail on Sunday stands at around £1.2 million, including damages of £180,000 to Wajed Iqbal, legal costs of Mark Lewis and the Mail group’s own legal costs.

Speaking to this correspondent, Wajed Iqbal expressed joy at winning the case. He shared how his life was torn apart by the allegations by Mail on Sunday. He said David Rose was not interested in writing the truth and “had a set agenda in his mind when writing the story”.

“I come from a hugely respectable Pakistani/Kashmiri background. My parents worked hard to educate us and gave us good upbringing. They came from Mirpur in late 60s to make a positive contribution," he said.

“In the current times, being called a paedophile is the worst allegation. My family is heavily involved in the local community and my elder brother Mohammad Iqbal is a Labour County Councillor," he added. 

Wajed Iqbal with his legal team. Photo: Geo News

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'Story was completely false'

Wajed Iqbal said the story was ruthless. “There are stories which are partially true and some parts are false. This story by David Rose was completely false."

"The licencing department at South Ribble council had three people in it: myself and two white females. I was the most junior member of the department but only I was targeted by David Rose and Mail on Sunday because I was Pakistani and Muslim," he noted.

"No white colleague of mine was mentioned to fit the narrative agenda that the reporter and the paper had in mind. I told David Rose when he approached me that he should send questions to my employer and get a response from them," he said. 

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Following publication of the story, Iqbal was denounced by members of his own community and the security company where he worked part time told him he cannot be employed anymore after the publicity. 

He had to put up cameras around his house to avoid attacks. His contract was terminated by South Ribble Borough Council. Mark Lewis filed the court proceedings for Wajed Iqbal in April 2018, nearly 11 months after the article was originally published. 

The Associated Newspapers Limited instructed three barristers and had Desmond Browne QC in the defence team. The Mail lawyers defended publication of the article stating that it was true and it was in the public interest to publish it. 

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'Life will never be the same for me again'

The Mail on Sunday, as part of the out of court agreement, has agreed to apologise to Iqbal; retract the claims, with a court statement making clear that Iqbal did not work exclusively as a taxi licencing official while at Rochdale and emphasising that he was never issued with any formal warning over his work at South Ribble council.

For two years, Iqbal said he couldn’t see his children. “I have lost my children because of this article by David Rose. I have won a big settlement and I am happy but I was driven to ruin by Mail on Sunday’s irresponsible journalism," he said.

"My reputation in the local Asian Pakistani community was destroyed. Life will never be the same for me again. There are good and bad people in every community, religion and race," he added.

"Pakistanis are both good and bad people but the way I was picked up only because I was a Muslim Pakistani speaks of the racism and hatred some people have in their minds. This also shows how racism and Islamophobia are rife in modern Britain today," he noted. 

When contacted, journalist David Rose refused to comment on the story.