Robin Atkins, who chairs New Alresford Town Council, has lost his libel action at the High Court in London.

He now faces a legal bill of around £100,000, but says he has cleared his name.

Mr Atkins was suing former town clerk, Bill Stevens, over a letter he wrote in July, 2002, alleging that his predecessor, Jill Shackleton, clerk for over 20 years, left due to Mr Atkins's conduct.

Mr Stevens stood by the claim, but said he had written the letter on request from the then-chairman, Simon Cook. He argued that because the letter was council business, it was protected by privilege. But Martin Strutt, for Mr Atkins, said privilege vanished if the person making the comments was motivated by malice.

William Bennett, for Mr Stevens, said Mr Atkins was obsessed with town council business to the point of paranoia. "Unlike Mr Stevens, he sees hidden motives everywhere and he believes people are out to get him.

"Perhaps a phrase uttered by Kenneth Williams, in Carry on Cleo, sums him up: 'Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me!'"

Mr Bennett said his client was a loyal servant to the council, caught in the crossfire between warring members. "We might conclude he'd been used as a political pawn by the councillors."

Mr Strutt said the letter was written on the clerk's own impulse. He speculated Mr Stevens was under pressure, as he was facing a complaint from Mr Atkins and Alresford resident, David Samuel. The court heard that it related to Mr Stevens refusing to give them some council minutes.

Mr Stevens said George Hollingbery, who chaired the council in early 2002, told him to withhold the documents. Said Mr Strutt: "Under that sort of pressure Mr Stevens needed an ally-and that person was Mr Cook."

He argued that the clerk knew Mr Cook was being sued for libel by Mr Atkins, which Mr Stevens denied. The jury heard that Mr Cook settled with Mr Atkins out of court, with Mr Cook paying legal fees of £11,000.

Mr Strutt said the clerk's comments were calculated to please Mr Cook, so that he would protect him. Mr Cook denied asking Mr Stevens to speak to Mrs Shackleton and write the letter.

Mr Strutt said if Mr Cook wanted Mrs Shackleton's opinion, it was more likely he would have spoken to her personally, as he knew the family. "Mr Cook is a man who would have every reason not to support Mr Atkins, so when he says: 'This never happened', I say you should believe him."

Yet the jury felt Mr Atkins did not prove the letter was malicious and after three hours, returned a unanimous verdict for Mr Stevens, who said later that he felt "vindicated" by the jury's decision.

"The burden of proving malice was on Mr Atkins. He was not able to do this," added Mr Stevens, who praised his legal team and the support of former deputy town clerk, Fran White.

Mr Atkins insisted he had cleared his name. "Mr Stevens accepted the remarks were defamatory and he's not proved the comments were true."

He intends to remain as council chairman, to which he was re-elected last week. "I will continue to serve the electorate of New Alresford in the best way that I can."

Mr Atkins was ordered to pay his own legal costs by Mr Justice Hughes and those of Mr Stevens. The judge gave him 21 days to pay at least £50,000, although the total bill is likely to be as much as double this. Both sides opted to remain tight-lipped over their final costs.