FENLAND District Council has agreed to pay substantial damages and full costs to two women who ran a March based taxi firm.

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A High Court libel action in which Archant – publishers of the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard- was a co defendant has settled with the council agreeing to pay the women’s costs and damages.

Archant Regional Limited was named as a defendant in the action following the publication of statements issued by Fenland District Council in 2008 and two other articles in the Cambs Times on the investigation of the taxi firm run by Ms Lopez and Ms Mathias.

Settlement of the case which involved Angela Matthias and Amanda Lopez, the former owner and former manager respectively of Angel Travel, was announced in a statement in the High Court today.

“The effect on the claimants of the publication of these allegations was catastrophic,” the court was told.

“Their business collapsed overnight, they were vilified in the local area and had to move elsewhere for a period of time.”

Allegations made by the council and published in the Cambs Times were acknowledged in court to be “defamatory and false”.

Fenland Council has agreed to pay Angela and Amanda libel damages: the actual sum has not been disclosed but is substantial.

The court was told that Fenland Council had also agreed “to pay the claimants’ costs of this action incurred against both defendants”.

Proceedings began after the Cambs Times published allegations contained in a press release from Fenland Council. The press release wrongly claimed that:

1: Angel Travel was abusing the licensing system

2: Angel Travel had moved premises without telling the council.

3: Angel Travel had been inaccessible by phone

4: Angel Travel had been guilty of “significant abuse” of the rules governing home to school contracts operated by Cambridgeshire County Council

5: Angel Travel had not held the correct insurances

6: Angel Travel had failed to return three recently expired licence plates.

On May 23, 2008 the Cambs Times had published a front page article headed ‘school taxi firm investigation’ which carried the allegations.

“It also reported that a driver employed by the claimants (i.e. Angel Travel) had been convicted after driving with a school boy as his passenger by travelling at 76 mph on a notoriously dangerous road,” the court heard.

“The driver identified in the article was convicted for speeding but at the relevant time he had not been working for the claimants: he had been driving his car in a private capacity.”

The High Court was told that on May 30, 2008 the newspaper alleged that Angel Travel “had employed and were responsible for drivers who were endangering the lives of school children”.

The judge was told that the “defamatory allegations were false” and that Fenland Council had paid the claimants substantial damages and agreed to pay their legal costs.

“Under the circumstances the claimants are willing to let the matter rest,” the court was told.

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