Rushdie Shoots Down Book's False Claims

Author Salman Rushdie, center, leaves London's High Court with former wife Elizabeth West and their son, Milan Rushdie, after receiving the apology.
Author Salman Rushdie, center, leaves London's High Court with former wife Elizabeth West and their son, Milan Rushdie, after receiving the apology. (By Cate Gillon -- Getty Images)

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By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LONDON, Aug. 26 -- Author Salman Rushdie received a public apology in court Tuesday for defamatory comments made about him in a new book by a former bodyguard.

Lawyers said Rushdie's novel approach to libel law -- pursuing a quick retraction and apology rather than a cash settlement -- could be emulated by other public figures in Britain who seek to repair their reputations without a protracted trial.

"This is pioneering a new way of reconciling the right to freedom of free speech with the right to reputation," said Geoffrey Robertson, a lawyer for the award-winning novelist.

"Lies are lies," said Rushdie, 61, who two decades ago became a global symbol of free speech when Islamic fundamentalists called for his death over what they considered blasphemy in his best-known work, "The Satanic Verses."

Rushdie, in an interview, said he did not object to unflattering opinions of him and that he has "never gone to war" over them. But he said it was important to correct factual errors "so they don't creep into the record."

Under the terms of a court-approved settlement, former police officer and bodyguard Ronald Evans admitted that 11 statements he made about Rushdie in his book, "On Her Majesty's Service," were untrue.

Evans did not appear in London's High Court, but his attorney, Theo Solley, told the court that Evans apologized to Rushdie and his former wife, Elizabeth West, "for the hurt and damage they have suffered."

Solley said the apology was also made on behalf of ghostwriter Douglas Thompson and John Blake Publishing Ltd., which published the book.

Judge Nigel Teare applauded the "speedy resolution" of the matter and issued a formal declaration that the book's allegations were false. Evans, Thompson and the publishing house are also to pay Rushdie's legal bills.

The book was initially scheduled to be published this month. But Rushdie went to court after the Mail on Sunday newspaper published excerpts from the book earlier this month. The publisher agreed to destroy the first 4,000 copies of the book and will publish an amended version next month.

Because of the death threats following publication of "The Satanic Verses" in 1988, Rushdie was under police protection for nearly a decade. Evans was a British police driver assigned to Rushdie for some of that time.

In his book, in which he describes guarding several famous figures, Evans accused Rushdie of treating his guards callously and stingily and said he attempted to profit from the celebrity resulting from the death threats against him. Evans also alleged that West had married Rushdie for his money.

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