JK Rowling wins damages against the Daily Mail over church 'Sob Story'

JK Rowling did not say she had been stigmatised by a local church, as the Daily Mail claimedAP Images / Scholastic, Matt Sayles

J K Rowling has won "substantial damages" from the Daily Mail, after they claimed that she lied in a "sob story" about negative experiences in a local church.

The article, published on 27 September 2013 and entitled "How JK's sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her", claimed Ms Rowling reported she had been stigmatised for being a single mother by a local church.

Ms Rowling is president of the single parent charity Gingerbread. She wrote on their website about her experiences with a local church, but she did not claim to have been stigmatised by the congregation.

The only incident she mentioned was a lone encounter with a woman who used what Ms Rowling believed to be less than charitable terms about her: "I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother.

"I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps?"

The BBC quoted Ms Rowling as saying that she found the Daily Mail's article "misleading" and "unfair".

She had in fact described the church overall in positive tones, declaring herself "immensely grateful" for the female minister's willingness to pay her the maximum amount she could while she still kept her benefits, and for allowing her to bring her daughter Jessica into the church office with her.

Her primary criticisms were levelled at the media, politicans and the wider social perceptions of single mothers: "Newspaper articles discussed single mothers in terms of broken families and anti-social teenagers.

"A statement by a government minister late last year that 'people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks – they've got least to lose' speaks to a profound disconnect with people struggling to keep their heads above water.

"In some cases – and I was once one of those cases – what you might lose is enough food to eat, a roof over your head: the fundamentals of life and existence, magnified a million-fold when it is your child's health and security you stand to lose."

She also referenced a 2011 survey which found that 87 per cent of single mothers felt there was a stigma around their status that needed challenging.

The Daily Mail had initially admitted liability for the error in January, however the last few months have been spent in part attempting to resolve a dispute over the kinds of apology necessary and the amount of damages that should be paid.

In their apology, the Daily Mail said: "We accept that Ms Rowling's article did not contain any false claims and apologise for any contrary suggestion and have agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms Rowling, which she is donating to charity, and a contribution to her legal costs."