Britain’s recent horseburger scandal — when some supermarkets were caught out selling horsemeat disguised as beef — reminded me of an old story told to me by a UK gossip columnist, now sadly deceased.
It concerns a world-famous woman who liked to protect her image. The late diarist had the temerity to suggest that she had tucked into a horse dish in a country where horsemeat is frequently to be found on menus. The woman’s lawyers sued the paper for traducing her character. Rather than put up a fight and try to prove that on a particular day our famous woman was really eating horseflesh, the paper capitulated and paid her £50,000 ‘damages’ in an out of court settlement.
That was in the 1980s. This was not the first or the last time the famous woman resorted to such tactics over stories that were not actually libelous but were difficult to prove. A nice little tax-free earner!