Nineteen years ago I was threatened with a libel suit by Harold Evans because of an article I’d written in the Spectator about his departure as president of the New York publishing company Random House. Via his solicitors, Evans threatened to sue me for libel unless I paid his legal costs, gave a sum of money to charity and signed an undertaking that I would never write about him again.
I can’t claim to have been a high-minded journalist taking on a corrupt businessman. It was more of a Mickey-taking piece, pointing out that the former Sunday Times editor, once a titan of British journalism, had become a humourless, self-important twit since marrying Tina Brown and moving to the U.S. The article was accurate and well-sourced but, being a freelance hack, I was in no position to fight the case. On the other hand, I was reluctant to sign his gagging order, particularly as he wanted me to promise never to write about his wife as well. It was the hypocrisy that really stuck in my craw. Evans presents himself as a champion of free speech yet here he was, trying to use Britain’s libel laws to silence a pesky gadfly.