Author JK Rowling has been “fully vindicated and her reputation restored” following a newspaper’s apology for alleging she wrote a “sob story” containing false claims about her time as a single mother, the High Court in England has heard.
A judge was told that the publisher of the Daily Mail has accepted the allegations were “completely false and indefensible”, published an apology and undertaken not to repeat them.
Associated Newspapers Ltd has also agreed to pay the creator of Harry Potter substantial damages, which she is donating to charity, and to contribute to her legal costs, said her lawyer.
Solicitor-advocate Keith Schilling read out a two-page statement saying the newspaper allegations left the author “understandably distressed” but she was now happy to bring her libel proceedings – lodged in the name Joanne Kathleen Murray – to a close.
Mr Justice Warby, sitting at London’s High Court, agreed they should be ended and “the record withdrawn”.
Mr Schilling described Rowling as a highly successful author with a global public profile.
On September 18 2013 she wrote an article for the website of Gingerbread, the single parents’ charity, on her own experience as a single mother in Edinburgh while writing the first of the Harry Potter books.
She described only one instance where a visitor stigmatised her when she was working at her church.
Mr Schilling said at no point did Rowling criticise or complain about her treatment at the hands of fellow churchgoers, and in fact spoke about her time working at the church “with immense gratitude”.
Ten days after her article, on September 28, the Daily Mail published its own lengthy, two-page article with the headline: “How JK Rowling’s sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her.”
The Mail Online also published the article with the headline: “How JK Rowling’s sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered”.
Mr Schilling said the article alleged Rowling “had given a knowingly false account” and “falsely and inexcusably accused her fellow churchgoers of behaving in a bigoted, unchristian manner towards her, of stigmatising her and cruelly taunting her for being a single mother”.
The article also alleged that her Gingerbread account had been disputed by other members of the church, who were left either upset and bewildered or surprised and confused by her “sob story”.
Mr Schilling said: “The claimant’s Gingerbread article was, in fact, neither false nor dishonest.”
The Mail journalist had spoken to one member of the congregation, quoted in the newspaper, who had not seen Rowling’s article.
Despite the Mail’s claims, members of the claimant’s church had not been left upset, bewildered, surprised or confused.
Mr Schilling said: “Publication of the allegations left the claimant understandably distressed.
“This distress was exacerbated by the dismissive manner in which the defendant dealt with the claimant’s complaint in respect of an obviously defamatory and indefensible article.”
For several months, Associated Newspapers denied that their article was capable of defaming Rowling.
In December 2013, libel proceedings were launched and the following month the publisher accepted the allegations “were completely false and indefensible”, published an apology and agreed to pay substantial damages which the author was donating to charity.
Mr Schilling said: “In these circumstances, and this statement having been read out in court, the claimant now considers that she has been fully vindicated, her reputation has been restored and accordingly is happy to bring these proceedings to a close.”
Referring to an earlier legal action, a statement was issued on the author’s behalf, saying: “JK Rowling is pleased at the judgment made in the Court of Appeal which allows her statement in open court to be read out today.”