A LIBEL hearing to decide the damages to be paid by an MEP over claims following the Rotherham abuse scandal was adjourned without a resolution.
Jane Collins, who stood for election as Rotherham MP in 2015, is facing a damages bill for the “extremely grave” allegations she made about Labour MPs John Healey, Sarah Champion, and Sir Kevin Barron, when she claimed the three knew about child exploitation in the town and did not intervene.
The trio launched defamation proceedings against her, which she initially offered to settle but later tried unsuccessfully to withdraw her offer.
Mrs Collins also tried to use a European Parliamentary rule protecting its members from being sued, but the Parliament found this did not apply to her speech at the UKIP party conference, as it was “unrelated” to her MEP duties.
The case was back at the High Court on Tuesday, where a senior judge was asked to decide the amount of compensation Mrs Collins will have to pay.
Mr Gavin Millar QC, representing the three MPs, told Mr Justice Warby Mrs Collins had tried to withdraw her offer after realising she would have to make a public apology.
He said: “This would have caused potential political discredit to her, to visibly climb down or be shown to have badly libelled my clients without any conceivable justification.”
Mr Millar added: “What she has, in effect, sought to do repeatedly and continuously since the original offer is to try and deter us from bringing this case to a final conclusion.”
Mrs Collins did not attend the hearing, but was represented in court by a colleague, Mick Burchill.
Mr Burchill said she was unable to be there as she has cancer, and told the judge she had minimal earnings from her MEP role, leaving her unable to pay a large amount of damages.
He added: “She is a cancer sufferer. She is not acting, she’s not playing games, she is a very seriously ill person.”
Mrs Collins made the offending speech during her party’s 2014 conference at Doncaster Racecourse.
The event was broadcast live on the BBC Parliament channel and spread on social media.
Its central theme was the child exploitation scandal which had rocked Rotherham following the report of Professor Alexis Jay a month before the conference.
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 Asian origin.
Following a hearing on the “meaning” of the words in Ms Collins’ speech, in April 2015, Mr Justice Warby found she 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.
Mr Justice Warby has now reserved his decision on the amount of damages Ms Collins must pay and will give his ruling at a later date.
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