Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Jane Collins defamation case: Labour Rotherham MPs awarded £54,000

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Image caption UKIP MEP Jane Collins faces an estimated bill for costs of £196,000, plus £162,000 in damages

Three Labour MPs have each won £54,000 High Court defamation damages from UKIP MEP Jane Collins over remarks she made about Rotherham's child abuse scandal.

She claimed Rotherham MPs Sir Kevin Barron, John Healey and Sarah Champion knew about child exploitation in the town but did not intervene.

The case was sparked by a speech the Yorkshire and Humber MEP gave at UKIP's conference in September 2014.

Her attempt to obtain immunity from prosecution failed in October.

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Ms Collins faces an estimated bill for costs of £196,000. She was ordered to make an interim payment of £120,000.

That sum, plus the total of £162,000 damages, must be paid within 21 days.

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Image caption The award of £54,000 for defamation in each case was composed of £45,000 for libel and £9,000 for slander

Ms Collins was sued by the MPs for libel and slander after she alleged that each of them knew many of the details of the exploitation, yet deliberately chose to do nothing.

She made the speech at a UKIP conference a month after a report found that about 1,400 children in the area had been abused between 1997 and 2013.

The High Court heard the MEP also expressed the opinion that the MPs had acted out of political correctness, political cowardice or political selfishness and were guilty of misconduct so grave that it was or should be criminal, as it aided the perpetrators.

'Significantly distressing'

Ms Collins had refused to withdraw her comments throughout the whole of the campaign, had not apologised and had repeatedly tried to delay the litigation.

Gavin Millar QC told Mr Justice Warby that the allegations had been the "talk of the tearoom" in Parliament in the run-up to the 2015 general election and caused "extreme distress".

The judge said all three MPs found the experience "genuinely and significantly distressing".

He said: "They felt that their careers were at stake, and that their integrity was under serious attack."

Ms Collins argued she had made a political speech that did not contain any allegation of fact, but expressed an opinion to the effect that the MPs were likely to have known that sexual exploitation was a serious problem in the area.

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Media captionLabour MPs "relieved and glad" after judge awards damages in UKIP MEP libel case

She made an offer of amends which was accepted, but the amount of compensation could not be agreed.

At the High Court, Ms Collins was refused permission to appeal in the case although she can renew her application to the Court of Appeal.

In a joint statement, the MPs said the process of clearing their names had been "dragged out" for two years and had been delayed by Ms Collins' repeated attempts to evade justice.

Mr Healey said: "All three of us are very relieved and very glad to get the full vindication from the judge today, who has comprehensively ruled against Jane Collins."

The statement said Ms Collins had "tried every trick in the book" but "run out of places to hide".

Ms Collins said she had no comment to make at the moment.

Ms Champion told the BBC: "It has taken two and a half years and we've still not got an apology, and to be quite honest I doubt if we'll ever get a penny.

"When she made up lies against us we asked for a written apology and for £30,000 that we could give to local Rotherham charities which support abuse survivors."

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Image caption Jane Collins' allegations were made at a UKIP conference in the run-up to the 2015 general election

Sir Kevin said it changed what people in Rotherham thought of him, and that he was called "difficult things" during the 2015 general election campaign, including a "paedophile".

Ms Champion said: "I think she did it [during the campaign] to create political damage. Using child abuse for political gain - it's immoral."

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