Libel claim over Channel 4 “Jacksons” documentary ended on the eve of trial

A libel claim by Matthew Fiddes against Channel 4 Television, Studio Lambert and Jane Preston that has apparently cost more than £3.0 million in legal fees to date has ended just before going to trial. Mr. Fiddes claimed that the Defendants in the case libelled him in a documentary about the family of the late pop singer, Michael Jackson. The documentary was broadcast in November 2008 and was entitled “the Jacksons are Coming”. The documentary followed Michael Jackson’s brother Tito and his entourage when they visited the UK apparently looking for a home. Mr. Fiddes had claimed that parts of the documentary had been faked and that he had been portrayed, wrongly, to have profited from his relationship with the Jacksons. A lengthy trial was due to have commenced in the High Court on 21 June, however, a statement read out in court said that Mr. Fiddes now accepted that documentary had not been “faked”. The Defendants, however, accepted that Mr. Fiddes had not sold stories to the media about the Jacksons. The case had attracted attention earlier when it was referred to the Court of Appeal prior to trial. Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, headed the three strong appeal panel which also included Lord Justice Kay and Lord Justice Sedley. The Defendants had requested that the matter be decided by a judge alone without a jury. Mr Justice Tugendhat had ruled in favour of the Defendants, saying that costs needed to be reined in. The judge said that “Vast as they are, these costs are, I’m afraid, not untypical of libel litigation. Not many cases get to trial [..] and when they do get to trial, the costs are enormous. Here it’s in excess of £3m. Nevertheless, if there are costs savings to be made, even at this late stage, they can be made.” The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision that the case should be heard without a jury which has caused some debate as to whether this could become the rule rather than the exception in defamation cases that proceed to trial and the legal world await further developments on this point.

Published June 23, 2010

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