Sir Oliver Popplewell obituary

Sir Oliver Popplewell obituary

High court judge who presided over the libel case brought by Jonathan Aitken against the Guardian

Sir Oliver Popplewell, who has died aged 96, was responsible for delivering a demoralising setback to the Guardian. In the libel claim brought by the Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken against the newspaper after it had reported that he had breached parliamentary rules as minister for defence procurement, the high court judge ruled in May 1997 that the case should not go before a jury. The paperwork detailing the politician’s business interests was far too complex, declared Mr Justice Popplewell – agreeing with submissions by Aitken’s lawyers. He would decide the issue himself.

The Guardian’s lawyers, who had retained George Carman for his formidable cross-examination skills and ability to simplify issues for jurors, were dismayed. In his memoir, Benchmark (2003), Popplewell recorded that his “decision was greeted by near hysteria among the Guardian scribblers …”

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