Ex-Tory treasurer Cruddas wins £180,000 libel damages

Peter Cruddas: "The Conservative party, by lining up to criticise me in public, just made the whole situation a lot worse"

Former Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has won £180,000 libel damages over Sunday Times allegations about charging to meet David Cameron.

The businessman complained articles in 2012 suggested he had corruptly offered the chance to gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the PM.

The Sunday Times said it was "dismayed" and would appeal against the judgement.

Mr Cruddas also criticised the Tories after the judge ruled that David Cameron had "publicly humiliated" him.

'Reputation cleared'

Speaking outside the High Court in London, Mr Cruddas said: "The fact remains that, when the story broke, the behaviour of the Conservative Party made the whole thing a lot worse.

"The fact that Mr [David] Cameron said it was quite right I resigned [when] he didn't have my side of the story."

Start Quote

He has pursued this through the courts and got the outcome that he wanted, the right outcome as well, and good luck to him”

End Quote Grant Shapps Conservative co-chairman

He added: "The Conservative Party, by not giving me support... and lining up to criticise me in public, made the situation a lot worse."

In its report, the Sunday Times alleged that Mr Cruddas had suggested that major financial donors could get access to Mr Cameron, including attending meetings in No 10.

Labour said the "dinners for donors" revelations suggested big business was steering the Tories and the Conservatives launched an investigation into internal party funding procedures, which has yet to report.

Mr Cruddas, who has also been awarded £500,000 in legal costs, said that his "good name had been restored".

"I remember vividly having to walk into my offices the day after the article was published and face 500 of my staff, many of whom had a clip of the Sunday Times interview on their video screens. It was humiliating.

"The Conservative Party cut me off within two hours of the story breaking and did not want to hear my side of the story.

"I was constructively dismissed from my role as party treasurer and made to feel like an outcast as the prime minister and the party lined up to criticise me on television and radio.

"This hurt me immensely and further damaged my reputation."

'Right outcome'

In the court ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat said Mr Cruddas had "suffered public humiliation from the prime minister".

On the day the article was published, Mr Cameron suggested the allegations contained in it were "completely unacceptable" and it was "quite right" that Mr Cruddas had resigned.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said: "It may be a small consolation to him that the trial has received almost no publicity in the media, so far as I am aware...but that makes it all the more important that the award of damages should be one that will receive publicity.

"In my judgment the sum which is necessary and proportionate to mark the vindication that Mr Cruddas is entitled to, and compensate him for his distress and humiliation is £180,000. That includes £15,000 for aggravated damages."

In the wake of the verdict, Conservative chairman Grant Shapps repeatedly refused to apologise on behalf of the party for the way Mr Cruddas had been treated.

He said: "I think Peter Cruddas did exactly the right thing. He has pursued this through the courts and got the outcome that he wanted, the right outcome as well, and good luck to him.

"He has got the right to that and it's good that he did."

'Public interest'

Asked whether there was a need for the Conservatives and Mr Cameron to say sorry, Mr Shapps said: "I don't really think it's a question of that, I think it's a question of congratulating Peter Cruddas for managing to pursue this and get the right outcome."

Mr Cruddas, who before becoming treasurer was one of the party's leading donors, also succeeded in his claim for malicious falsehood against the newspaper but no separate damages award was made in respect of that today.

A spokesman for the newspaper said: "The Sunday Times is dismayed to have lost this case. This was an investigation into a matter of considerable public interest and the newspaper believed that use of undercover methods was justified.

"The Insight team conducted the investigation with the supervision and full backing of the senior editorial team and the advice of the newspaper's lawyers. The Sunday Times and its journalists intend to appeal the judgement of Mr Justice Tugendhat."

The Electoral Commission dismissed calls for an inquiry into the allegations last year, stating that there was no evidence that the law on donations had been breached.

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