The BBC will pay £185,000 in damages to Lord McAlpine following the Newsnight broadcast on 2 November that wrongly linked the former Conservative party treasurer to historic allegations child sexual abuse.
It is one of the largest sums ever paid out by the publicly funded corporation, which is on the losing end of six-figure libel cases infrequently, and will set a precedent for other legal actions the peer has in train against ITV and any other media organisations and individuals.
The BBC said it had “agreed terms with Lord McAlpine to settle his claim of libel against the corporation. The settlement is comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made”.
It is understood that, despite the payment, the BBC and McAlpine have reached an agreement in which will say he still holds the BBC “in great esteem” when statements are read out in open court confirming the damages. The concession was welcomed by the BBC as it battles to restore its reputation after the error, which led to the resignation of director general George Entwistle on Saturday.
Despite the payout, McAlpine’s lawyer said the peer was “more than aware that the ultimate people who will be paying any monies that he may receive are in fact the licence payers, the people who really own the BBC” and that any settlement “reached is tempered in the light of that”.
The highest amount paid by the BBC in recent years was £500,000 to African diamond firm Oryx Natural Resources after the broadcaster wrongly linked it to Osama bin Laden.
Earlier on Thursday, McAlpine’s lawyer Andrew Reid said ITV’s This Morning was top of “a very long list” of those facing legal action from his client over false accusations in relation to child abuse. Also likely to be targeted is Sally Bercow, the wife of Speaker John Bercow, who tweeted the peer’s name after the transmission of the Newsnight programme, which did not reveal his name.
Reid said he would have no choice but to sue if those on the list failed to come forward to apologise. Some people, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot, have already apologised to the peer in writing. Bercow had made an apology on Twitter, but Reid appeared not to be aware of this.