Daily Mail and Sun pay out to Tamil hunger striker
by Sam Jones
A Tamil refugee who went on a 23-day hunger strike in Parliament Square last year has received an apology and almost £80,000 in damages from the Daily Mail and the Sun over false allegations that he secretly sustained himself with hamburgers.
Parameswaran Subramanyam, 29, became the public face of the 73-day Tamil protests in Westminster after he decided to stop eating in the hope of drawing the world's attention to what was happening to his people in the final stages of Sri Lanka's civil war.
He gave up his hunger strike on 30 April after the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote him a letter explaining the "strenuous efforts" the government was making to bring about a ceasefire on the island. He then spent five days recovering in hospital.
Although his actions won him the support and admiration of many Tamils, their affection turned to animosity in October 2009 after the Daily Mail ran a story falsely claiming Subramanyam had broken the strike by eating burgers and had been caught doing so by a Metropolitan police surveillance team. The allegations were then repeated in a story published on the Sun's website, headlined "Hunger Striker Was Lovin' it".
Today, Subramanyam's solicitor, Magnus Boyd, told the high court that the articles had "[struck] at the heart of the claimant's integrity, undermining the single achievement for which he became known and respected".
He added: "As a direct result of the defendants' publications, the claimant was ostracised by the Tamil community and its supporters who believed that the claimant had betrayed them and that the claimant had in fact undermined the Tamil struggle globally."
Not only were the allegations false, said Boyd, the Met superintendent in charge of the policing operation had also confirmed that no video evidence existed because there had been no police surveillance team using the "specialist monitoring equipment" alluded to in the Daily Mail article.
Victoria Jolliffe, counsel for Associated Newspapers and News Group newspapers, told the court that both organisations had withdrawn the allegations and apologised "sincerely and unreservedly" to Subramanyam for the distress that had been caused.
He is understood to have accepted damages of £30,000 from the Sun and £47,500 from the Daily Mail. The newspapers will also pay his legal costs.
Subramanyam said he felt both organisations should have done more to check the story with the Met before running it. Had they done so, he said, "it would have become clear to them that the allegations they intended to publish were false".
He said he was still angry at his treatment by the Mail – and particularly its claim in court today that it had published the article "in good faith based on information that, at the time, was understood to be reliable".
Today's apology, he said, did not go far enough in repairing the damage done to his reputation.
"I have been shunned, publicly abused and received numerous extremely distressing and frightening telephone calls and text messages," he said. "I have received death threats and on occasions felt unable to leave my home for fear that I may be attacked."
"Ultimately, I feel the Daily Mail has used my apology and the court statement as an opportunity for it to absolve itself of any responsibility for publishing the false claims."
Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, which is home to many Tamils, welcomed the news.
"Fasting was the sacrifice [Subramanyam] was making to bring the UK's attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Tamils being killed and injured by the Sri Lankan government," she said.
"To suggest that he had broken his fast in secret, at the height of the civil war was an insult to him, to his community and to those victims."
Boyd, a partner at solicitors' firm Carter-Ruck, said that the case showed how important an individual's reputation was.
"It's not just a concept," he said. "It has real meaning in people's lives. When someone's reputation is damaged, something very fundamental to them as people is damaged and I have seen it with Parameswaran. He has turned inside himself with this case." - courtesy: The Guardian. uk -