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Papers could escape libel case but Five may not be safe

LONDON - Newspapers that have revealed the identity of the TV presenter who is being named as the man who allegedly raped former weather girl Ulrika Jonsson may be safe from the threat of legal action, according to legal experts, but Five might not be so safe.

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All the UK tabloids published the man's identity yesterday morning, along with two broadsheets -- The Guardian and The Times.

The papers followed on the heels of the Evening Standard, which splashed the man's name and picture on its front page on Wednesday afternoon following a blunder by TV presenter Matthew Wright. Wright blurted out the man's name on his show on Five earlier in the day, although celebrity publicist Max Clifford has indicated that it might not have been such a careless blunder.

Clifford said yesterday that he was asked if he would confirm the name if Wright mentioned it. Clifford says he refused.

Legal experts believe that if the man decided to sue any media company, it would most likely start at the beginning of the chain with Five or, with the Evening Standard, which was the first newspaper to publish the man's name.

The first companies to publish the libel would not only be liable for footing the bill for Matthew Wright's revelation if a libel case was brought, but it could also be sued for each time it was subsequently published.

Jonathan Grogan, associate solicitor at Newscastle-upon-Tyne law firm Dickinson Dees, said: "The person who has been libelled could sue the originator of the libel for every subsequent repetition of the libel as it is from him the libel flowed."

Grogan added: "The libelled person would also need to consider who's likely to be the best payer."

Grogan believes the TV presenter would be unlikely to sue the newspapers who carried the story later on because, in order to win a libel case, the plaintiff has to prove that his or her reputation has been lowered in the estimation of right-thinking people.

"By the time the other newspapers have published the story, the man's reputation would already be damaged," Grogan said.

Grogan also believes that Five may be able to use the fact that Matthew Wright's show is live as a defence.

It is believed that the man be better off suing the originator of the libel, because at that time his reputation was still intact.

If the broadcaster is sued, however, it would not be able to call on Jonsson as a witness, according to Julian Pike, partner at London solicitors Farrer & Co.

"Five won't be able to get Ulrika Jonsson in the witness box judging from what was said by her solicitor in the Times yesterday," Pike said.

Jonsson solicitors have said that Jonsson has never named her assailant and has no intention of doing so. "Furthermore, she never provided details from which he could be identified. That remains her position," a legal adviser for Jonsson said.

This means that Five would only be able to call Jonsson as witness if she was subpoenaed.

Even if Jonsson did stand in the witness box, it would not be difficult for any solicitor to discredit her evidence in court, because her reputation is not in a very good state following scandals such as the Sven-Goran Eriksson affair.

There are also questions hanging over the timing of the naming of the man, because it happened on Wednesday, the day before her autobiography 'Honest' went on sale.

The only other witnesses who could be called to testify against the man at the centre of the case are the two women who went to celebrity publicist Max Clifford claiming that they too had been victims of the man's unwanted attention.

While one of the women has now gone to the police with her allegations, Pike believes that "any claimant could argue that their statements were undermined because they went to Max Clifford first".

It is also believed most papers are hedging bets that the man at the centre of the allegations will not risk legal proceedings because his whole private life would be laid bare.

The Sun is reported to have heard from nine women with unflattering stories about the man.

"The question he must ask himself is 'do I take the risk of issuing proceedings'? Only he knows what he's been up to," Pike said.

"Everyone remembers the Gillian Taylforth story, which appeared for one day on the front of The Sun and was practically forgotten, but as soon as she started legal proceedings the story was splashed across all the nationals for weeks," he added. "Jonsson's alleged assailant's case is different to the Talyforth case, but lessons are nonetheless to be drawn from her experience. Any claim he might wish to initiate would undoubtedly have to await any police investigation and prosecution."

Others may advise him to proceed, because the case against him may not stand up in court and it might also go some way to clearing his name.

The identity of the man Ulrika referred to in her book 'Honest' has been bandied about the entertainment industry since extracts from the book were published in the Daily Mail last week, which said she had been raped by a TV presenter in 1988.

TV industry insiders quickly concluded who the accused man was, but his identity remained concealed from the public until daytime chatshow host Matthew Wright accidentally blurted his name out on his show on Five two days ago.

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