Magazine article The Spectator

The Victoria Brittain Drama (Last Act). She's Failed

Magazine article The Spectator

The Victoria Brittain Drama (Last Act). She's Failed

Article excerpt

At the bottom of page two in the Independent on Tuesday there was a short piece headlined `Captain Kojo Tsikata'. Remember him? Towards the end of last year I wrote a series of articles about Mr Tsikata, a former head of the Ghanaian security service, and his close friend, Victoria Brittain, deputy foreign editor of the Guardian. It had transpired that 327,000 had been paid into Ms Brittain's bank accounts on Ms Tsikata's behalf, most of it from Libyan sources, before being transferred by Ms Brittain to the solicitors, Bindman & Partners. The money was intended to fund an action brought by Mr Tsikata against the Independent.

That action has now been ended on terms that should make the paper quite happy. Readers may recall that Mr Tsikata had taken exception to an article published by the Independent in June 1992. The piece, written from Ghana by Karl Maier, had mentioned in its penultimate paragraph that Mr Tsikata had been named by a special Ghanaian inquiry as the 'mastermind' behind the murder of three Ghanaian judges in 1982. The paper did not add that the Ghanaian attorney-general had subsequently explained in detail his reasons for concluding that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Tsikata.

Mr Tsikata sued the paper but lost in the High Court and on appeal. The Independent won the argument on the basis of `qualified privilege'. Because the allegation against Mr Tsikata had appeared in an official Ghanaian government document, the newspaper had been justified in repeating it. This represented a small landmark in English law. Having been refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords, Mr Tsikata decided to proceed against the Independent on the grounds that its original report was malicious. The case was set down for 26 October at the High Court, but with four weeks to go Mr Tsikata has decided to accept a settlement.

It does not appear to give him everything he wanted. The Independent's 200-word statement on Tuesday did not amount to an apology. In language which bears the hallmark of my learned friends, the paper admitted that `the sole witness against Captain Tsikata subsequently withdrew his accusation just before his execution for the murders'. (This is a rather heartless reference to the execution of Amartey Kwei who, confronted at his place of execution by FlightLieutenant Jerry Rawlings, the Ghanaian head of state, retracted his evidence against Mr Tsikata before being shot.) The paper went on: `We did not intend to suggest that Captain Tsikata was in fact guilty of these terrible crimes and we regret it if any reader understood that we did.'

As long ago as July 1993, the Independent offered Mr Tsikata a right of reply in which he could have mentioned that the Ghanaian attorney-general had concluded that he had no case to answer. (The Independent did not know about the attorney-general's, conclusions when it published its original article.) So what more has Mr Tsikata got? He has secured an expression of regret on the paper's part if any inaccurate inferences were drawn, but he has not achieved the vindication he must have been hoping for. The paper has not said that it is absolutely certain that he is innocent of any involvement in these crimes, presumably because it is in no position to do so. …

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