LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A protester who went on hunger strike outside Britain’s parliament last year won substantial libel damages on Thursday over newspaper reports he had secretly eaten McDonald’s burgers during his demonstration.
Articles in the Daily Mail and The Sun said Parameswaran Subramanyam had scoffed takeaways during his 23-day protest over the plight of Tamils caught up in Sri Lanka’s civil war, after which he was treated in hospital for five days.
His lawyer Magnus Boyd told London’s High Court the claims struck at the heart of his integrity and undermined the action for which he became known and respected, the Press Association reported.
Subramanyam began his hunger strike as part of a large protest in central London in April 2009.
Six months later, the Mail and The Sun ran stories which claimed that specialist police monitoring equipment had caught him secretly eating burgers and that he had caused the police to waste a fortune in public money.
Boyd said both papers now accepted the allegations were entirely false.
“The claimant did not consume any food at all throughout his hunger strike,” he said.
“The Metropolitan Police superintendent who was in charge of the operation in Parliament Square confirmed that there was no police surveillance team using `specialist monitoring equipment’ and that no video evidence existed.”
Boyd said Subramanyam had been ostracized by the Tamil community who believed he had betrayed them and undermined their struggle globally.
Victoria Jolliffe, the lawyer for the papers’ publishers News Group Newspapers and Associated Newspapers, said they withdrew all the claims and apologized sincerely and unreservedly for the hurt and distress caused.
They each agreed to pay Subramanyam substantial damages and his legal costs.
“I am relieved that this matter is now resolved and I can start to rebuild my life again,” said Subramanyam afterwards, adding that he had contemplated taking his life because of the strain the reports had caused.
“My sacrifice during the 23-day hunger strike was real and for the sake of my fellow Tamils who are suffering in Sri Lanka.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison