Charity stands by Desmond after failed case

By Simon Rocker, July 30, 2009

Norwood has stood by its president Richard Desmond after the newspaper owner’s failed libel suit which put his business conduct into the spotlight.

Mr Desmond was left with an estimated £1 million plus costs when a High Court jury last week rejected his claim for defamation against the investigative journalist Tom Bower.

In a statement, Norwood chairman Bernie Myers said this week that Mr Desmond had been a “committed supporter” of the charity for more than 20 years and it had been “delighted” to appoint him as president three years ago.

“Since then, he has demonstrated, on every occasion, his dedication to our work through his willingness to give his time, expertise and generous support,” Mr Myers said.

“In doing so, Richard has helped us to provide an essential safety net to the thousands of children, families and adults coping with learning disabilities and social disadvantage who rely on Norwood’s services.”

Three years ago the Norwood faced an outcry from several communal figures who felt that Mr Desmond’s business interests in erotic adult television channels made him unsuitable to be the titular head of a Jewish family charity.

Mr Desmond, whose media empire includes the Express and Star newspapers and OK magazine, sued over a passage in Mr Bower’s biography of the former Telegraph owner, Conrad Black.

He said that the book, Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge, had wrongly claimed that he had used one of his newspapers to attack Lord Black after a business dispute and then been forced by the Telegraph owner to climb down by printing an apology.

But Mr Bower’s QC, Ronald Thwaites, said that there had been nothing defamatory and that Mr Desmond was being “oversensitive”. He told the court that Mr Desmond had “been proven as someone capable of holding a vendetta and he should be sent away as a loser.”

At one point, the jury was played a taped telephone in which Mr Desmond was heard to warn a hedge fund manager that “I’m the worst f****** enemy you’ll ever have.” A few days later a defamatory article about the fund appeared in theSunday Express.

In a statement after the verdict, Mr Desmond said that Mr Bower’s “biggest mistake was in thinking I would not go to court to uphold my reputation and the resulting action has cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend a few ill-thought-out remarks that were not even essential to his book. It was worth it to stand up in court and set the record straight.”

Mr Bower has written an unpublished biography of Mr Desmond entitled Rough Trader.

Last updated: 1:45pm, July 30 2009