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Juryless Jackson suit dropped

22 June 2010

A libel action which was set to be heard without a jury has been dropped.

Michael Jackson’s former bodyguard Matt Fiddes withdrew his claim against Channel 4 on the eve of today’s scheduled opening in the High Court.

Mr Fiddes’ representatives MLaw insist the decision was only partly linked to the fact the costly case would be heard by a judge alone.

MLaw partner Chris Hutchings said: “Our claimant dropped these proceedings because Chanel 4 accepts that he didn’t betray the Jackson family by selling stories.

“He has never ever wanted money out of the case, all he has ever wanted was to prove he didn’t sell stories.”

Channel 4 and Mr Fiddes will now both cover their own costs for the case so far, which is estimated to have already past the £1.5m mark despite never having actually begun.

But Mr Hutchings admitted the judge-only trial did pose significant fears for the team, stating: “The absence of a jury did play a factor in the decision, of course it did. We felt it was a case best heard by a jury and it was accepted by the judge that the general public would be better suited to hearing a case about a television show such as this than a high court judge.”

“So it was significant to our decision but by no means the only one factor.”

In court this morning, Fiddes’ counsel Ronald Thwaites QC said: “Upon reviewing the evidence, the claimant publicly acknowledges that the programme was not “faked” as he has previously claimed and has today withdrawn his allegations of malice.”

The case related to the TV show The Jacksons Are Coming which discussed the famous family’s visit to Devon. Fiddes lodged complaints of defamation against three parties – broadcaster, Channel 4, production company Studio Lambert and filmmaker Jane Preston.

Acting for the defendants, Adrienne Page QC said: “The defendants accept the claimant’s denial, which was broadcast in the programme, that he provided stories to the press for money.”

The decision follows a unanimous Court of Appeal decision to uphold a ruling which allowed the trial to be heard without a jury on the basis of escalating costs.

Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, Maurice Kay LJ and Sedley LJ agreed earlier this month that a jury could soak up too much time and money in a case which already combined complex document disclosure and spiralling ‘no win no fee’ costs.

Julian Bellamy, head of Channel 4, said he was delighted with decision, adding: “This case illustrates the chilling effect that exorbitant legal costs in CFA funded libel claims can have on broadcaster’s freedom of expression.

“The claim was flawed from the outset and it is a damning indictment of the current libel system in the UK that the claimant has been allowed to tie up the court’s valuable time and the defendants’ resources for so long.”

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