The Mail on Sunday has apologised and paid £180K damages to a council worker who it wrongly accused of acting as a “fixer” for cab drivers in Rochdale who were abusing young girls.
An article on May 14, 2017, published in the newspaper and on the MailOnline website, headlined “Scandal of the mini-cab predators,” caused “huge and continuing distress” to Wajed Iqbal, 44, a council licensing officer.
The Mail on Sunday story claimed Iqbal, who is British-Pakistani, cleared taxi drivers of the same background to work in Rochdale at a time when they were sexually abusing children.
At the High Court in London, William Bennett QC, representing Mr Iqbal in his libel action, last week read out a statement agreed with lawyers for the newspaper’s publishers, Associated Newspapers Limited, as part of a settlement.
Mr Bennett QC said: “The article made a grave allegation that the claimant was a ‘fixer’ for cab drivers in Rochdale who were committing crimes against young girls. The article also alleged that the claimant was given a warning by his employer, South Ribble Borough Council, for alleged deficiencies in his working practices as a licensing officer.
“These allegations were false. They have caused huge and continuing distress to Mr Iqbal. Nevertheless, Mr Iqbal is satisfied that the defendant has come to court to offer its sincere apologies to him for making the allegations complained of and to acknowledge that they were false.”
The court was told that Associated Newspapers had agreed to pay Mr Iqbal substantial damages in a case that is estimated to have cost the newspaper a further £1m in legal fees.
Iqbal laster told The Guardian that his life had been ruined by the article, leaving him reliant on anti-depressants, out of work, and prevented from seeing his children. He said the legal victory followed a three-year battle and the newspaper had chosen to pick on him because of his race.
“When the article came out I didn’t know what to do. It’s like my whole world crumbled around me,” he said. “The colour of my skin was the selling point. Put that together with grooming gangs and then – boom…
“They put two and two together and got five. It’s easy to say that the Asian licensing officer is granting licensing to groomers.”