Friday, 17 July 2009

Profiles of top libel specialists in UK

When legal letters threatening action for defamation arrive in an editor's in-tray, the names of certain lawyers can induce a queasy feeling. Robert Verkaik, The Independent's Legal Editor, profiles the libel specialists.

From The Independent
Defame academy: The libel specialists
By Robert Verkaik, The Independent's Legal Editor
Monday, 07 July 2008
Keith Schilling, senior partner of Schillings.

At the beck and call of some major and some very minor celebrities, Schilling has established himself as the "must have" libel lawyer for soap stars and footballers' wives alike. Rubbing noses with the A to Z-listers has also given Schilling a heightened sense of his own stardom, evidenced by an all-year tan and expensive hair highlights.

His firm has a reputation for browbeating newspaper editors which has earned Schilling the sobriquet, "Prince of Darkness." But the firm's aggressive billing policy backfired in 2006 when a judge was dismissive about his use of press cuttings to support his high fees.


Sienna Miller and Naomi Campbell jostle with Noel Edmonds and Michael Flatley for Schilling's personal attention. His big legally significant case was the libel claim by Roman Polanski against Vanity Fair over allegations that Polanski seduced a Scandinavian model just days after his new wife, Sharon Tate, had been murdered. The pint-sized film director successfully won damages against the magazine in the High Court without ever setting foot in the UK.

Nigel Tait, long-standing partner at Carter-Ruck.

Since the retirement and subsequent death of the firm's founder, Peter Carter-Ruck, Tait has steered the firm into pole position on the defamation law firm grid. This achievement is all the more remarkable given predictions of the practice's own demise following a very critical court ruling concerning the way the firm had racked up costs in a case against the Sunday Telegraph. In 2004 the High Court described fees charged by the firm, up to £750 an hour, as "extravagant" and called for a cap on libel costs. The court warned that such high level of fees could have "a chilling effect" on investigative journalism.


The firm is acting for Tesco in its libel and malicious falsehood claim against the Guardian newspaper in which the paper investigated tax avoidance schemes set up by the supermarket giant to protect its massive profits. Tait prefers to talk about the time he represented a six-year-old-boy in a £35,000 libel claim against the Sun – the youngest ever claimant.

Adam Tudor, partner at Carter-Ruck

In a field of law which has a reputation for producing colourful and flamboyant characters, Tudor remains stubbornly dour and humourless. According to those who have to deal with "trivial point scoring" legal correspondence the experience is a joyless one. Recently told a newspaper that if he hadn't been a lawyer he would have joined the police force. "They often (and on occasion deservedly) get a bad press, [but] they serve a crucial role in the community and in society," Tudor earnestly told the interviewer.


Most recently acted for the McCanns in their unobstructed £550,000 libel victory against Express Newspapers. Wasting no time in taking centre stage Tudor, who is also a solicitor advocate, donned legal costume to address the court directly on behalf of his well-known clients.

Alasdair Pepper, partner at Peter Carter-Ruck

Pepper has been at Carter-Ruck since he qualified in 1984. At nearly 7ft tall he is, according to one of those on the wrong end of his "turbo aggressive" legal correspondence, as pompous as he is tall. "Why use one word when ten will do, is his motto," claims another. Pepper is the brains behind Carter-Ruck's early warning system, through which the firm helps clients deal with unwanted press interest before it hits the papers. The firm says clients like him and he has a "no nonsense" approach to litigation.


Has made a name for himself representing former England footballers, including Kevin Keegan (who won £150,000) and Alan Shearer. Also acted for Ken Bates in his defamation claim against the London Evening Standard.

Gerrard Tyrrell, senior partner at Harbottle & Lewis

His reputation for taking no prisoners in matters of libel litigation has won him few friends in Fleet Street. "Comes across as a head boy by trying to make the most of very small points," says one solicitor who regularly acts for Fleet Street. "The last time I dealt with him he started reciting the telephone number of Press Complaints Commission down the phone. When I asked him what he was doing he said if I didn't accept his argument I should ring the PCC to get their perspective of the rights and wrongs of the case," remembers a defendant editor.


Has recently picked up the Clarence House brief and now regularly acts for the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Princes William and Harry.

The firm's hard-won royal connections are somewhat tarnished by its association with Beckingham Palace, home to Britain's alternative royal family, Posh and Becks. Last year Tyrrell acted for Victoria Beckham against Richard Desmond's Star magazine in which she was described a "grade-A bitch". Mr Tyrrell told the High Court that Star magazine had agreed to pay substantial damages and Beckham's legal costs and undertaken not to repeat the defamation.

David Price, David Price Solicitors & Advocates

Regarded as something of a maverick when he first opened the doors of his one-man defamation boutique ten years ago. In a direct assault on the Bar he qualified as a solicitor advocate so he could offer clients a one-stop shop. Now proudly boasts the ownership of a rare statue of Rumpole of the Bailey, the fictional figurehead of the Bar, who greets visitors to his Fleet Street offices. Price has grown the firm into one of the most successful defamation outfits in the market. "He has one of the finest libel brains in the business, but he doesn't rub your nose in it," says a defamation defence lawyer.


The fact that Max Clifford, the king of tabloid PR, prefers Price to represent him in his libel dealings with the media says it all. Other clients include Paul Burrell, Samantha Janus and Kerry Katona.

Sarah Webb, head of defamation at Russell Jones and Walker.

Webb is one of only a handful of women who have made it in the highly macho world of claimant libel law. Other notable successes are Tamsin Allen of Bindman and Partners and Amber Melville Brown at David Price Solicitors & Advocates. Webb has built on her firm's long-standing representation of the police and is now the first port of call for police officers who believe they have been defamed by the media. Regarded as easy to deal with, Webb, married to a circuit judge, also has a reputation for being a little "horsey", an observation corroborated by the fact that she is a member of the Equine Lawyers Association.


Webb has since broadened her client list to include MPs, judges, public schools and senior civil servants. Recently acted for Michael Fuller when he was Assistant Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police (he is now Chief Constable of Kent) against the Sunday Mirror which paid out in excess of £20,000.

Eddie Parladorio, partner at London law firm Statham Gill Davies.

A former solicitor with Schillings, Parladorio is regarded as a bit of a rough diamond among London's libel fraternity. "Don't mess with Eddie in or out of court," warns one leading litigator. Parladorio once complained police were tapping conversations he was having with one of his clients. He also caused a bit of stir at a legal bash a few years ago when he turned up on the arm of Ulrika Jonsson, shortly after she split up from Sven Goran-Erikson. Jonnson was a former client.


This month acted for Everton manager David Moyes who won libel damages over claims made in Wayne Rooney's autobiography "My Story So Far".

In the book Moyes was accused of a serious breach of trust towards a "young player under his management." But Parladorio told the High Court last month: "There was no breach of confidence or betrayal of trust by Mr Moyes."

Nick Armstrong, partner at Charles Russell

Claims never to have lost a libel trial. Has a real insight into how newspapers work after a 10-year stint at a firm acting for Times Newspapers. Only picks up the phone to newspapers when his client has at least a reasonably good case. "Never points the gun of litigation unless he means to fire it," says one lawyer.


Acted for former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and his agent over the Mazher Mahmood News of the World sting when Sven was lured to Dubai to meet a fake Sheikh. The action was resolved with an apology to the former football manager plus all his costs and an undisclosed damages payout to charity. Continues to look after the FA and now represents Fabio Capello as well as a range of soap stars.


  1. Internet libel and online defamation is becoming a pandemic. suddenly, everyone is an author. This immediate technology, coupled with poor impulse control and an all too accessible "submit button", leads to many malicious and harassing comments being posted for all the world to see. This article mentions a lot of celebrities who by their very nature developed thick skin. However, until somebody has personally experienced the torment and anguish of a relentless and malicious Internet smear campaign, is very difficult to relate to the anguish it causes.

    I make a living helping people were victims of libel, I would much rather do something else because I'm exposed day after day to the emotional carnage it causes.

    Regards, Michael Roberts of

  2. Let say it the way it is, its about money, its not about free speech or doing the right thing. They will only act for someone if there is money in it for them. The current state of the UK libel laws are making a mockery of the legal system. How about some free speech support then.