Fenland council admits libel over claims against transport firm

A council has paid a Cambridgeshire car hire firm's bosses substantial libel damages over false accusations in a press release published in a newspaper.

Fenland District Council paid out to the owners of Angel Travel after the firm collapsed over allegations it was putting schoolchildren's lives at risk.

The firm provided transport for the council and individual schools.

The owners took the council to the High Court in London alleging the libels and Fenland admitted blame.

Angela Matthias and Amanda Lopez, owners of the firm based in March, were "vilified" locally and had to move out of the area for a time.

Solicitor Daniel Taylor told the High Court sitting under Mr Justice Tugendhat, that in May 2008 Fenland put out a press release.

This accused Angel Travel of abusing the licensing system, abandoning its offices without telling the council so that it could not be contacted, having no valid insurance and failing to return expired licence plates.

The accusations were repeated on the front page of a local newspaper.

Defamatory allegations

A further claim that one of the firm's drivers had driven a schoolboy at 76mph down a notoriously dangerous road was also published.

Ms Matthias and Ms Lopez said the driver, although convicted of speeding, had not at the time been working for Angel Travel but was driving in a private capacity.

The firm was further accused of employing and being responsible for drivers who were endangering the lives of schoolchildren.

Mr Taylor said: "The effect on the claimants of these allegations was catastrophic.

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

He told Mr Justice Tugendhat that the defamatory allegations published by the council and in the newspaper were '"false".

"The council has paid the claimants substantial damages with regard to these allegations and has agreed to pay their legal costs," he said.

He added that Ms Matthias and Ms Lopez were now "willing to let the matter rest".

The council was expected to reply in more detail but said on Tuesday they had no comment.

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