UKIP has been ordered to pay £175,000 of legal costs MEP Jane Collins incurred over comments she made about Rotherham’s three MPs.
The cash-strapped political party was ordered yesterday by Justice Warby, sitting at the High Court, to pay the amount within 14 days.
The demand comes days after UKIP’s leader, Gerard Batten, issued a plea for cash and said the future of the party was in doubt.
MPs Sir Kevin Barron, John Healey and Sarah Champion successfully sued Ms Collins, MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, for defamation after she claimed in 2014 they knew about child sexual exploitation in the town but did nothing to intervene.
Ms Collins was ordered in February 2017 to pay damages of £54,000 each to the MPs – a sum which remains outstanding.
The judge ruled UKIP was responsible for paying some of Ms Collins’ £660,000 legal costs because it had been found responsible for delaying the case until after the 2015 General Election.
This brings Ms Collins’ total amount to pay to £647,000.
Mr Justice Warby said UKIP took “a deliberate, informed and calculated decision, for reasons of party political advantage, to ensure that the case was not settled before the General Election”.
He added: “The decision-makers knew that Ms Collins’ cause was hopeless, and that settlement was the only realistic option, but decided to delay that step.”
In joint statement the three MPs said after yesterday’s hearing: “UKIP’s actions behind the scenes forced the costs of this case to soar and compounded the damage from Jane Collins’ unfounded and hurtful allegations.
“This deliberate strategy hugely increased the legal costs and it is right that UKIP are today held liable for a large share of these costs.
“UKIP used the unfounded allegations by Jane Collins for political advantage. At the highest level, UKIP knew Jane Collins’ case was 'hopeless' but blocked any settlement in our favour before the 2015 General Election because they believed it would win them votes.”
The MPs have pledged to donate any money received to charity.