How, in a more perfect world, could an offended retailer and a newspaper have settled their differences? One option would have been for Tesco to have appealed to The Guardian's independent readers' editor (the only such ombudsman among the British daily papers). In its eleven years of existence, the readers' editor has dealt with numerous serious complaints against the The Guardian. In those years there has been only one instance in which a complainant subsequently felt the need to go to court. Another route would have been for Tesco to have complained to the news industry's self-regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, which offers free and quick mediation of issues that parties can't resolve between themselves. Both options would have been preferable to what actually happened.
As we were to discover—if belatedly—the only route to total prepublication self-protection in these matters is to spend tens of thousands of dollars on tax, accountancy, and legal advice. Essentially, the only people qualified to produce wholly authoritative libel-proof assurance are the very people involved in constructing the strategies under scrutiny. They do not come cheap—and many of them have conflicts of interest. Some would give advice in private, but would not speak in public or in court.
Unfortunately, financial journalists—and the FT has better-trained financial journalists than others—don't really understand this stuff, and they join a long list of people that starts with bank regulators, central bank regulators and money managers
In the Tesco strategy, there was a complex structure designed to deprive the Revenue of Stamp Duty Land Tax, not corporation tax, and an experienced reporter, trained in accountancy, who got it completely wrong. It took us some time—including meetings with lawyers, forensic accountants, and especially qualified senior tax lawyers—before we fully understood the nature of this strategy, and thus the true nature of our error.
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