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Hunger striker libel win: 'I considered suicide'

Daily Mail and the Sun ordered to pay 'substantial' damages to Tamil protester.

A Parliament Square hunger striker who was accused in the Daily Mail and the Sun of sneaking away to eat Macdonald's burgers today accepted "substantial" but undisclosed libel damages from the two papers and a public apology at London's High Court.

Speaking afterwards the man said he was so upset by the stories that he considered killing himself.

Mr Justice David Eady was told that Parameswaran Subramanyam, a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka, went on hunger strike on 7 April 2009 in an attempt to raise awareness of the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils and in a bid to persuade the UK Government to intervene.

His solicitor, Magnus Boyd from Carter Ruck, told the judge that Subramanyam received substantial public support from both within the Tamil community and the public more generally and that hundreds of supporters kept vigil outside the his tent throughout his hunger strike and thousands queued on a daily basis to show their respect for his action.

He officially ended the hunger strike on 30 April 2009, said Boyd, and at the time had not eaten any food for 23 days and had to be hospitalised for five nights.

However, he said that almost six months later the Daily Mail published a story headed "Hunger Striker's £7m Big Mac" which claimed that he had been sneaking away to eat fast food during the hunger strike.

The Sun also published an article based on the Mail story headed "Hunger Striker was Lovin' It" with a large photograph of the Mr Subramanyam captioned "Bogus...striker was 'eating burgers' ".

"The articles reported claims that the claimant had been secretly eating McDonald's burgers throughout his hunger strike and that he had consequently caused the police to waste a fortune in public money. The articles stated that police surveillance teams had caught the claimant eating the burgers on specialist monitoring equipment," said Boyd.

However, he continued: "The allegations are entirely false which both defendants now accept. The claimant did not consume any food at all throughout his hunger strike. The Metropolitan Police Superintendent who was in charge of the operation in Parliament Square confirmed that there was no police surveillance team using 'specialist monitoring equipment' and that no video evidence existed."

He said the articles struck at the heart of Subramanyam's integrity, and undermined the single achievement for which he had become known and respected.

He told the judge that both papers now apologised and were to pay substantial damages and Subramanyam's legal costs.

'Unbearable strain'

Parameswaran said today: "I am relieved that this matter is now resolved and I can start to rebuild my life again The past eight months have been an unbearable strain on my life, to the extent that at times I have even contemplated taking my own life.

"As a result of the lies that the newspapers published about me, and through no fault of my own, I have lost friends, been shunned by family members and completely ostracised from the Tamil community."

Liberal democrat MP Simon Hughes MP said: "I saw Parameswaran for nearly every day of his hunger strike last year and have stayed in contact since. From all I saw and knew about the protest, Parameswaran always acted out of principle and for real.

"The false allegations about Parameswaran were not just hurtful but clearly aimed at undermining Parameswaran's credibility and the credibility of the whole Tamil protest."


Dominic Ponsford and Roger Pearson write for