Michael Broadbent has won a libel victory against Random House, publishers of The Billionaire’s Vinegar.
The case, brought by law firm Russell Jones & Walker, centred on the book by Benjamin Wallace, which tells the long-running story of the Jefferson bottles.
Michael Broadbent was head of Christie’s wine department from 1966 to 1992, and is Decanter’s longest-running columnist.
‘The book made allegations which suggested that Mr Broadbent had behaved in an unprofessional manner in the way in which he had auctioned some of these bottles and that his relationship and dealings with Hardy Rodenstock, who discovered the original collection, was suspected of being improper,’ Russell Jones & Walker said in a statement.
Random House apologised unreservedly for making the allegations and accepted that they were untrue. It has given an undertaking not to repeat the allegations and paid Mr Broadbent undisclosed damages.
Sarah Webb, head of Russell Jones & Walker’s defamation department, who acted for Broadbent, said, ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar made highly damaging claims about my client that seriously compromised both his professional and personal reputation.
‘We are delighted that Random House has today accepted that these allegations are totally without foundation and avoided the need to proceed to a full trial.
‘My client is relieved that the good name he has built up over many years as one of the country’s leading wine experts has been fully restored.’
Random House will now be unable to publish the book in its present form in the UK – nor in the US, Webb told decanter.com.
‘The English courts can only cover publications in England, so there is no jurisdiction in America.
‘But if they publish in the US they will have to make sure that no copies of the book get to the UK, and as it is impossible to guarantee that, any re-issue of the book in America would be repeating the libel.’
Webb dismissed an accusation by Wallace that this was a case of ‘libel tourism’ – that is, choosing to sue in a country with libel laws weighted in the plaintiff’s favour.
‘This is not libel tourism. Michael Broadbent lives here. The book is fully available here, and has already sold 2000 copies.’
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Written by Adam Lechmere