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Thursday, June 29, 2006
British court to rule on Armstrong's libel trial

Associated Press

LONDON -- London's High Court will decide Friday if Lance Armstrong's lawsuit against the Sunday Times newspaper will go to trial after both sides presented their arguments to a judge.

The seven-time Tour de France champion is suing the British newspaper for printing a review of the book "LA Confidential, The Secrets of Lance Armstrong" in June 2004.

Armstrong had taken performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong has denied all doping allegations.

Armstrong's lawyers argue that by publishing the piece, the newspaper claimed he was a drug cheat. The newspaper says it is only bringing the suspicion of guilt into the public domain.

The court will rule on how the article would have been interpreted by readers and whether the case should go to trial as scheduled Nov. 6.

The book was published shortly before the 2004 Tour de France. The two authors, David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, and the writer of the article, Alan English, are also included in the lawsuit.

"Armstrong is presented as a paradigm example [of drug abuse in the sport], he is right at the heart of it," Armstrong's lawyer, Richard Spearman, said in London's High Court Wednesday. "[The implication is] how could he have won these races in the way he has without having been doped liked everybody else?"

"There's no rule that you can't explore grounds of suspicion without straying into [alleging] guilt," the newspaper's lawyer, Andrew Caldecott, argued. "The role of the press is to raise questions, not merely to convict the guilty."

The French-language book relies in part on allegations by a former Armstrong masseuse, Emma O'Reilly. In it, she claims Armstrong once asked her to get rid of used syringes and give him makeup to conceal needle marks on his right arm. She acknowledged she didn't know what was in the syringes.

Armstrong has said the book's claims are "absolutely untrue."