Published:


6a00d83451b31c69e2017ee82ffb52970d-150wiBy Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC.

Peter Cruddas, the former Conservative Party Treasurer, has received yet
another boost in his on-going legal battle to clear his name.

Mr Cruddas was awarded earlier this week £45,000 in damages (plus costs)
against Mark Adams, the lobbyist and blogger, whose original tip to The Sunday Times led to their undercover
investigation against him. Mr Adams has publicly apologised for wrongly – and
repeatedly – accusing Mr Cruddas of breaking the law relating to political
donations. The full judgment is here.

The comments from the High Court judge presiding over the hearing must
have been music to the ears of Mr Cruddas, who is fighting a determined campaign
to restore his name.

However, the very same comments from Mr Justice Eady are embarrassing
for the Conservative Party which dumped its Treasurer with great haste within
hours of the paper’s “revelations” last year.

Mr Justice Eady said:
“I can thus legitimately record, without fear of contradiction, that the
allegations of criminality against Mr Cruddas were indeed false and that he is
entitled to have his reputation vindicated in that respect."

The judge added:
“It emerges clearly from the transcript that Mr Cruddas did not suggest that
donations could be made from a foreign source, or that the law could be circumvented
by means of a 'front' company, but rather he emphasised that it would be necessary to
be above board and that any donations would have to be compliant with English
law.”


I
disclosed in my blog of 25 July 2012 that Mr Cruddas, a wealthy self-made
businessman, was suing Times Newspapers Ltd and two of its journalists,
Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake, over stories that alleged he had offered
access to David Cameron in return for large donations to the party.

Mr Cruddas had been the victim of an
old-fashioned newspaper sting after walking into a carefully-laid trap: the
journalists set up a fake organisation, with a fake website and other
subterfuge, in order to meet him in the guise of being prospective donors to
the party.

Later, I questioned whether the party had been a
little too hasty in forcing Mr Cruddas to resign within hours of the newspaper
hitting the streets on the evening of Saturday 24 March. In addition, I
suggested the party hierarchy had been amiss in not thanking him for his many
years of hard work and substantial donations that he had given to the party.

In fact, David Cameron, no less, was one of
those who had been quick to criticise Mr Cruddas back in March last year. The
Prime Minister said: “This is not the way that we raise
money in the Conservative Party, it shouldn't have happened. It's quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned.”

In the aftermath
of The Sunday Times’s story, the
party set up an internal inquiry under Lord Gold to look into funding, in
general, and the allegations against Mr Cruddas, in particular. This inquiry
has since been put on hold.

Belatedly,
however, Mr Adams has now apologised
for his actions. In a public statement, he said: “I have to accept that I made
an allegation that I could not then prove and, under the laws of the land, I am
liable to pay damages to Mr Cruddas and bear the costs of his legal action. I'm sure you will understand that I
won't comment much on the case. It is however clear from his evidence in open
court that Mr Cruddas is very aggrieved to have been told by the Prime Minister
that his actions were ‘completely unacceptable’.“

Mr Cruddas has
now been cleared of wrong doing by the Electoral Commission, the Metropolitan
Police and a leading High Court judge. On top of this, The Independent newspaper has also apologised for its follow-up
stories that accused him of acting illegally.

It will, of
course, be up to a jury to determine whether The Sunday Times libelled Mr Cruddas. The paper will face
allegations – which it is contesting – of “selective” editing and distorting
the facts. The paper will insist, interestingly, that it never accused Mr
Cruddas of breaking the law.

However, I would
suggest that if the court does find in Mr Cruddas’s favour he will be entitled
to substantial damages for the very considerable suffering he has received at
the hands of the paper.

Also, the party
may have to investigate and analyse its actions on the night of 24 March 2012.
For I have no doubt that by forcing Mr Cruddas to resign – without properly establishing
the facts of what had happened – it increased the harm to his reputation, and
effectively gave the green light to the media and to individuals like Mark
Adams to wade into him.

Was the party
guilty of abandoning – even betraying – one of its most loyal supporters in his
time of need? These are legitimate questions that, in time, may require
measured answers.

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