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David Trimble wins libel settlement from Amazon.co.uk

David Trimble, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, has won an apology and undisclosed damages from Amazon.co.uk after the company offered a book for sale and posted reader comments in breach of a previous settlement between the parties.02 Apr 2002

In October 1998, Amazon.co.uk began selling Sean McPhilemy’s book “The Committee – Political Assassination in Northern Ireland.” The High Court in London was told that the book accuses Trimble of being a member of a secret loyalist organisations that conspired to murder republicans and Catholics and alleges that he abused his political position to conceal the organisation’s activities. The web site also invites customers to submit reviews. Some of the reviews repeated the allegations against Trimble.

Amazon.co.uk, a limited company owned by Amazon.com in the US, withdrew the book from sale as soon as it became aware of its libellous content and took steps to remove the relevant reviews from its site. However, it did not apologise to Trimble so he brought libel proceedings. The case settled in November 2000. Trimble then discovered that Amazon.co.uk had begun selling the book again in January 2001 and that customer reviews repeating the allegations were appearing again on its web site. Amazon.co.uk apologised and withdrew the book from sale and removed the reviews.

The company has undertaken not to sell the book in future, apologised and paid undisclosed damages. It said that its sale of the book for a second time was caused by an administrative error, pointing out that it carries 1.5 million titles on its site.

While the book, published in the US, has been removed from Amazon.co.uk, it is still available on Amazon.com, priced at $110. The US company said it intends to continue selling it for as long as it is available. Colorado-based publisher Roberts Rinehart ceased printing the book in 2000 as part of a $1 million settlement in a separate lawsuit. Two Northern Ireland businessmen, also alleged by McPhilemy as belonging to the secret organisation, had sued the publisher in Washington DC. In a statement on Wednesday, the publisher said of the book, “Anybody who sells it now is doing so at their own risk.”