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Apology yes, but no damages
Rushdie and his former wife Elizabeth West in London

London, Aug. 26: Sir Salman Rushdie won an unreserved apology in the High Court in London today from the authors and publisher of a book which had painted an extremely unflattering portrait of the 61-year-old Booker of Booker author.

On Her Majesty’s Service, by Ron Evans, a former member of the team of armed Scotland Yard officers who provided armed protection for Rushdie, had made a number of allegations about the author.

But in what must count as an extremely severe form of literary criticism, a High Court effectively trashed the book by listing 11 “falsehoods” – lies, in simple language.

In what was also being presented as a new of settling libel actions that reconciled free speech with the need to correct errors, Rushdie sought and received a grovelling apology but did not press for exemplary damages.

The author of Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses admitted he was “horrified” when he read the memoirs of Evans of whom he had only a vague recollection though the latter was a driver for three years.

“This has been an unattractive affair,” commented Rushdie after his libel victory. “My only interest was to establish the truth. I’m happy that the court has made its declaration of falsity and that the authors and publishers have recognised their falsehoods and apologised. As far as I am concerned that’s the end of the matter.”

He said; “It seems to me to have been an avoidable business – the facts were not checked before publishing these allegations.”

According to the book, which received international publicity after being serialised in the Mail on Sunday – the paper has agreed to apologise as well – Rushdie was nicknamed “Scruffy” by his minders. Another allegation was that he was so unpleasant and tight-fisted that his protection officers locked him in a cellar while they went off to a pub.

The book was written with the help of a ghost-writer, Douglas Thompson, and brought out in London by John Blake Publishing.

The book had suggested that Rushdie’s third wife, Elizabeth West, married him only for his money. It also went into detail about how police officers had to make themselves scarce when West, then his girlfriend, came visiting so that the couple’s intimate interludes was not disturbed.

Rushdie and West – they divorced when he married Padma Lakshmi – and their 11-year-old son, Milan, were in court today to hear Justice Teare’s ruling that the book contained, at least, 11 falsehoods, which were all admitted by Evans, Thompson and Blake Publishing.

Although 4,000 copies of the book have been pulped and two offending chapters rewritten, it remains to be seen whether On Her Majesty’s Service will be reissued.

It has now come out that Evans left the police force following his conviction on nine counts of dishonesty. His reputation is now in tatters and the book does not have much credibility left but the publishers may reckon that its very notoriety may help sales.

Although Rushdie has waived damages, his lawyers will receive costs of £15,000.

The statements admitted to be false included:

1.That Rushdie was locked in a room by protection officers because of his objectionable attitude towards them

2. That protection officers who asked Rushdie if they could buy alcohol from him were charged for the drinks

3. That Rushdie sought to profit from the fatwa inviting Muslims to kill him for insulting the prophet Mohammad

4. That he sought and was advised by the Intelligence Services not to publish a book about his experiences

5. That safe houses were provided for Rushdie at government expense, rather than having to provide them himself at great personal expense;

6 That the relationship between Rushdie and his protection teams was unprofessional, hostile and unfriendly

7. That Rushdie was unhygienic

8. That Rushdie was suicidal and was being supervised or examined by a police psychiatrist

9.That Elizabeth West became his girlfriend and then his wife because of Rushdie’s wealth.

On the steps of the High Court, Rushdie explained: “My interest was solely to establish the truth over the number of serious allegations about myself, Elizabeth West and, indeed, about the behaviour of the police force.”

He said he appreciated that for the writers and publishers it was difficult to “stand up in the High Court and own up to being a liar”.

“I hope it will be an original and new method by which to establish facts rather than going for enormous financial damages,” he continued.

David Sherborne, representing Rushdie, told the court: “In fact, as a number of his protection officers volunteered to testify in the event that this matter came to trial, Sir Salman conducted himself with dignity and courtesy throughout a time of great personal danger and concern.”

Sherborne added that John Blake Publishing, Evans and Thompson were represented by solicitor Theo Solley to confirm that there was no truth in any of the allegations.

“They are also here to apologise unequivocally to Sir Salman Rushdie, as well as Ms West, for the hurt and damage which they have suffered as a result of the publication of these allegations,” he said.

Rushdie’s publishers, Random House, issued a statement: “In view of Sir Salman Rushdie’s belief in free expression he has, uniquely in a British libel action, not sought damages, nor has Sir Salman asked for any opinions in the book to be altered, only that the false and defamatory content be taken out.”

Geoffrey Robertson QC, who headed the legal team representing Rushdie, claimed his client had “pioneered a new way of reconciling the right to freedom of speech with the right to reputation – you nail the lie for all time with a court ordered declaration of falsity and you receive your legal costs, but you decline to chill free speech by putting authors and publishers to an expensive trial and making them pay heavy damages”.

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