Telegraph apologises for false slurs on Huhne and offensive Cristina Odone article

The Daily Telegraph has been forced into a humiliating climbdown after making what it now admits were false claims about Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

The paper had splashed on allegations that it was Huhne who had leaked the letter from Michael Gove suggesting taxpayers might make a gift of a new royal yacht to the Queen in order to embarrass the education secretary. It’s unclear what evidence the paper had, if any, because Huhne’s involvement was swiftly denied by the Guardian journalist responsible for exposing Mr Gove’s, erm, politically courageous proposal. Perhaps, perish the thought, they just took a punt and hoped it would turn out to be true.

In any case, the paper has now been forced to correct the record:

Chris Huhne MP – Apology
10:00PM GMT 20 Jan 2012
We reported on 17th and 18th January (“Huhne accused of leaking letter about new royal yacht”; and “All the malice of Machiavelli – but sadly none of his skill”) that Chris Huhne MP had leaked a letter about the new royal yacht to journalists in an attempt to discredit colleagues. We now accept that this is wrong, and apologise to Mr Huhne for any embarrassment caused. We particularly regret the offence caused by Cristina Odone’s article.”

Ah yes, Cristina Odone’s article… The Telegraph has now pulled it from their website, but the sub-heading gives the flavour of its unpleasant tone: “He’s smeared his colleagues and betrayed his wife. Are there any redeeming features to the Lib Dem MP, asks Cristina Odone.” Variations on this theme are then repeated for a few hundred words.

I challenged her about the piece on Twitter when I first saw it. To her credit, she did respond. Slightly less to her credit, she saw nothing amiss in what she’d written:

Now Chris Huhne certainly has his difficulties at the moment, so the press probably sees him as an easy target. But maybe they could focus on his policies in the future, and leave the false claims and pungent moralising to one side?

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • From what the telegraph reported it wasn’t a vague allegation that Huhne was responsible, they described how there were numerous letters, and it was only the final letter that Huhne had access too that was leaked. That sounds as though they had a source within Downing Street who believed it was Huhne, and that there was this circumstantial proof.

    With the tantalising prospect of getting Huhne again they ran pieces more certain in tone than the flimsy evidence warranted. Their mistake was to assume that the Guardian only got hold of the last letter, when it was just as likely that they obtained the whole set and only revealed the last since it was most controversial one. Like politicians it’s important to assume all journalists are guilty until proven innocent.


    Hold the front page ….

  • @Tony Watts: completely agree. Ms Odone negatively comments on Huhne’s marital status, when, by her own admission, as a divorced Catholic, she is as ‘sinful’ as her faith says Huhne. Perhaps she should remove the beam from her eye before she seeks to remove the mote from others…

  • Maybe I’m a bit thick but when Gove writes a personal letter is it customary for him to run it by Huhne first? Dumb “story” dumb “journalist”.

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