It's now October 1906 and Lady Marjorie is away leaving Richard Bellamy home alone. He's working on a book but when he sees one of the new servants, Mary, crying he insists that she tell him what is wrong. She's only been at 165 Eaton Place for three months but prior to her arrival her former employer's son, Myles Radford, forced himself on her and she is now pregnant. Richard knows the Radfords and is shocked by what he hears, but when young Myles dismisses his request that he do the right thing, Richard foolishly writes a letter and is threatened with legal action. The family's solicitor, Sir Geoffrey Dillon, soon takes charge of the situation but the successful resolution of Richard's predicament will not be in Mary's favor. Written by
Great episode - legal psychology correct - details wrong
Just being a stickler for the details of libel law.
I assume that the letter was written and published in some public forum
otherwise the defence of qualified privilege was available if it was
just written to the family. In other words, Bellamy had a clear duty to report the allegation of rape to the family (and to the police) which would have shielded him from libel, absent malice or recklessness (which would amount to malice in the eyes of the law). However, it would have been up to the other side to prove malice, not for him to prove absence of malice.
In fact, being a member of Parliament, Bellamy had the option of raising this issue in Parliament where his words would have been subject to absolute privilege which would have shielded him 100% from a lawsuit. Of course, it would not have protected him from the whispers regarding his motivation, nor censure from his peers for misusing his position...
Regardless, proving the truth of the allegations would have been a sufficient defence in the circumstances in this case. Truth is almost always an adequate defence and certainly is with regards to reporting a serious crime.
The family would have been equally reluctant about a lawsuit as it could have turned either way and would have been equally expensive and ruinous to pursue on their part. However, the episode captures the psychology and ugliness of the affair. Being cornered, it would have been a very dirty fight as the family tried to prove malice and Mr. Bellamy trying to both prove the correctness of his allegations and destroy the reputation of his foe.
Just pointing out that Bellamy's legal position was far stronger than depicted by his solicitor and he would have known it. The risks to him politically and in society were however accurate and the advice to retract was sound and is likely what a solicitor would have given to protect the Bellamys' interests.
The legal inaccuracies do not take away from this great episode. The psychology and cynicism about the legal system is absolutely spot on and deserved. I was greatly impressed by the plot, especially given that it came out in 1971.
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