MEP Jane Collins bids to avoid paying damages in grooming claims libel case

A UKIP politician sued over “extremely grave” allegations she made about Rotherham’s three Labour MPs is trying to avoid paying damages, a High Court judge heard.

Jane Collins, who represents Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire in the European parliament, claimed the town’s MPs knew about child exploitation before the publication of the Jay Report in 2014 and did not intervene.

Her remarks, made at Ukip’s party conference in Doncaster in the run-up to last year’s general election, were broadcast live on BBC Parliament.

Some of them were also published on the party’s website, on Twitter and on the Press Association's news wire.

Sir Kevin Barron, John Healey and Sarah Champion, the three MPs whose constituencies cover Rotherham, sued Ms Collins over the allegations.

Their barrister, Gavin Millar QC, told the court yesterday that the triohad  accepted an offer from Ms Collins to settle the case in May last year — although a figure for damages could not be agreed upon.

But Ms Collins, who sacked her lawyers the following month and is now representing herself, now says she did not authorise such an offer.

She said she had to dispense with her legal team after spending £80,000 on her representation.

The MEP told Mr Justice Warby, sitting at London's High Court, that she believed the offer was rejected and that no further offer was made.

She said: “I had been under the impression that my legal representatives were going to robustly contest the claim in my interest.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

But Mr Millar said the politician was simply trying to avoid keeping her side of the deal.

He added: “It is simply an attempt to get out of the bargain she made in May last year and it is yet another example of the defendant’s inability to accept the consequences of her actions.”

Earlier during the hearing, Ms Collins argued her request for the “immunity” offered by the European Parliament to its members should lead to the case being delayed.

The protection works in a similar way to the privilege extended to comments made by Westminster politicians in the House of Commons, although it can also apply to remarks made outside the EU Parliament chamber.

Mr Millar said the move was an attempt to “assert the primacy of this piece of EU law over the law and procedure in the court of England and Wales”.

Ms Collins told the court she believes a letter will arrive from the EU Parliament, notifying the court it is to consider her request for immunity.

But Mr Justice Warby refused to halt proceedings, saying he will deal with the issue as and when the court receives the letter.

Ms Collins, who was Ukip's candidate for the seat of Rotherham — Ms Champion’s constituency — in the 2012 by-election and at last year's general election, made the speech in September 2014 at her party's national conference.

The central theme of the speech was the child exploitation scandal which had rocked Rotherham following the report of Professor Alexis Jay the previous month.

That report detailed how, over a 16-year period, an estimated 1,400 children were raped, beaten, plied with alcohol and drugs and threatened with violence by men of Pakistani origin.

Following a hearing on the “meaning” of the words in her speech, in April last year, Mr Justice Warby found Ms Collins had stated that the three MPs “knew of the abuse and chose not to intervene”, as though it was a fact.

He also found other assertions made by her, including that the trio 'acted in this way for motives of political correctness, political cowardice, or political selfishness', were expressions of opinion.

The High Court hearing continues.