IT was the most derisory sum a jury once could have awarded for slander - a farthing. And, if that meagre sum had not stunned the packed public gallery and further infuriated the plaintiff, their verdict in not censuring the defendant did.

Timothy Falvey, the former editor of the Southampton-based Hampshire Independent, had sued Vere Fane Benett-Stanford in the wake of remarks the Conservative candidate had allegedly made to his Liberal opponent in a 1873 by-election.

With the prospect of losing the Shaftesbury seat which his party had held for 25 years, Henry Danby-Seymour had hired Alfred Dyer, the paper's publisher, and Falvey, who in addition to being a first class journalist, was a brilliant orator for the hustings.

Ironically the two candidates had been the best of friends since childhood and with the voting looming, met by chance in the High Street where they chatted about how the five week long electioneering had exhausted them.

It was in the context of that conversation as how well their campaigns had been going that Falvey complained he had been "so grossly and unjustifiably assailed" and wrote to Benett-Stanford demanding an apology.


"I have on good authority that you have been circulating a report that I have been convicted of perjury and fined £100. As such a statement is a false and scandalous rumour, for which there is not the slightest foundation, I have to inform you that if you do not in a public manner withdraw so grave a charge and offer a full and frank apology, I shall instruct my solicitor to commence legal proceedings against you for the vilification of my character and to show the utter untruthfulness of such a statement.


"T Falvey."

He duly received a terse reply.

"I am in receipt of your letter dated August 28th, saying you have been informed I had been circulating a report in reference to your character. I beg to say this statement is incorrect.


"F Bennett-Stanford."

But Falvey would not accept his denial and warned him of the potential consequences if there was no retraction.


"I have received your note in reply to mine of this day's date. I gave you the opportunity of withdrawing the very serious charge which you have made against me - namely, that I have been convicted of perjury and fined £100, and offering me a public apology of having done so. In reply to my specific allegation you evade the gravity of its character by mildly denigrating such a malicious calumny as 'a report in reference to my character and that the statement was totally incorrect.'

"As the facts of the case are matters of evidence, and the slander remaining current in the town, if you do not make a strong disavowal of having given it circulation and tender me a public apology, I have to ask for the name of your solicitor, to whom I shall communicate further.


T Falvey."

However Benett-Stanford did not relent and the action for damages took place in front of Mr Justice Archibald in the second court of the Queen's Bench at Westminster the following February.

Jurors heard of the light hearted conversation about how the voting might go, Benett-Sandford joshing: "I told him 'I am perfectly safe to win if your side do not bribe," to which Seymour countered: "What nonsense to talk to me of bribery when I can win perfectly easy without going to such expenses."

Benett-Stanford scoffed: "You are a fine fellow to talk to me about bribery. Do you know what they say about your friend Falvey - that if the election petition at Southampton had not been arranged, he probably would have been fined £100 for bribery in connection with the election. That is what I heard stated from a man coming from Southampton."

Benett-Sandford stressed: "The whole tenor of my conversation with Mr Seymour alluded to bribery and it was only in connection with Mr Seymour's accusation - or rather insinuation - that I was going to bribe."

The eminent Mr Lopes QC, who was representing him, specifically asked: "Did you say, Mr Falvey had been tried for perjury?"

Benett-Standford strenuously denied it: "I never mentioned the word 'tried' or 'perjury."

On receiving the second letter, he handed it to his solicitor.

At this point, the judge interjected: "Did you think it might be used for the purpose of the election."

Benett-Sandford replied: "That is so. I know nothing about Mr Falvey except that he is a very good speaker indeed. In old days, bribery was quite commonly committed by nearly half the members of the House of Commons. It was not thought such a crime in those days."

He added: "I thought the conversation between Mr Seymour and myself private and privileged and the communication made in it given to a very old friend of mine. I respect Mr Falvey and I think he did his duty for Mr Seymour very well indeed.

"Moreover, I consider I did not make any attack or reflection on the character of Mr Falvey. I never said anything detrimental to the character of the plaintiff."

The judge told jurors it was for them to determine who was the more accurate in their recollections.

"What are the probabilities? Mr Standford, on receiving the plaintiff's letter, wrote down what he believed to have occurred but that was 36 hours after the conversation. On the other hand, Mr Seymour went straight to Mr Dyer who, without a moment's delay, communicated with Mr Falvey and in the latter's letter of remonstrance, the very words alleged to have used, were set forth.

"It is very much regretted that in his reply, Mr Stanford did not distinctly disavow using the language attributed to him and that the letter should have stopped where it did. Such a disavowal was due to Mr Falvey and could not possibly have done any harm to Mr Stanford but nothing of the kind took place.

"That the fact is one element in the case for your consideration, and though it is true that in election times one must expect hard things to be said, no one can, without rendering himself amenable to the law, accuse another of committing an indictable offence, and if you think that Mr Standford has done so, you must give fair and reasonable but not vindictive damages."

Following a short consolation, the jury found in Falvey's favour but only awarded him one fathing in damages, the foreman adding: "We do not feel there is any imputation of Mr.Benett-Sandford's character."

BLOB Benett-Sandford won the seat, a hotbed for generous bribery, for seven years until 1880 but it was abolished five years later under the Reform Act and the town as well as most of the borough was placed in the new Dorset North constituency.