Defamation News


Widow Awarded Compensation for Defamatory Report of Husband´s Death

The widow of a Rathkeale Traveller, who died on holiday in Cologne, has been awarded €20,000 compensation for a defamatory report of her husband´s death.

On 24th April 2011, Patrick Hegarty (37) died of a heart attack while hitching his caravan to the back of his car. Patrick and his family were in Germany at the time as part of a group of Travellers who traditionally converge on Cologne around Easter. His body was flown back from Frankfurt to Dublin, and he was buried in Limerick a week later.

The following week, the Sunday World published an article about Patrick´s death – alleging that he had died due to an excess of alcohol, that the family had tried to transport his body back to Ireland in the back of a van, and that Patrick´s death had sparked riots at the site where the Travellers had congregated.

Patrick´s widow – Kathleen Hegarty – was particularly distressed by the newspaper report. She rang the Sunday World to complain, but never received a return call or an apology about how her dead husband and the family had been portrayed in the article. Consequently Kathleen consulted a solicitor and claimed compensation for the defamatory report of her husband´s death.

The newspaper denied the allegations, arguing that she could not claim that she had been defamed because she was not mentioned by name in the article. However, at the Limerick Circuit Court, Judge James O´Donohoe said that the core issue was whether the article injured a person´s reputation “in the eyes of reasonable members of society”.

The judge ruled that although Kathleen was not mentioned by name, she was clearly identifiable in the newspaper article as the deceased´s widow and that – in the context of Traveller´s culture and traditions – the comments made by the Sunday World would be “injurious to her good name in the community”. The judge awarded Kathleen €20,000 compensation for a defamatory report of her husband´s death and €5,000 to each of Kathleen´s brothers, who had also been referred to anonymously in the article.

Minister Reilly Settles Defamation Case against Associated Newspapers

Minister James Reilly has settled his defamation case against Associated Newspapers – the publishers of the Irish Mail on Sunday – for an undisclosed amount.

On 7th October 2012, the Irish Mail on Sunday published an article entitled “Reilly Link to Developer of Second Clinic”, alleging that the then Minister for Children had links with the property developer building an HSE primary care centre in Swords, Dublin.

In the article it was claimed that Dr Reilly had previously sold land to the same developer for the construction of luxury homes and implied that Dr Reilly had abused his position as Minister for Children by granting a public contract to a developer with whom he had personal links.

Minister Reilly took legal action in November 2012, and his defamation case against Associated Newspapers was scheduled to be heard at the High Court. However, before proceedings started, Judge Iseult O´Malley was told that the case had been settled for an undisclosed amount.

The hearing still went ahead and – instead of deciding the defamation case against Associated Newspapers, a representative from the Irish Mail on Sunday read an apology to Dr Reilly in which it was acknowledged that the “grave allegation” was without foundation and should not have been made.

The apology continued by saying any implication that the Minister had exploited his position in the Health Department was “wholly without foundation” and the Irish Mail on Sunday was happy to unreservedly apologise to Dr Reilly for any damage or distress caused by the article.

Former Archbishop Settles Defamation Case against RTÉ

A former Archbishop of Benin has settled his defamation case against RTÉ, whose Prime Time documentary “Mission to Prey” had alleged he was a paedophile.

In May 2011, RTÉ broadcast a Prime Time documentary “Mission to Prey”, in which it was alleged that Richard Burke (66) – a member of the Kiltegan Fathers and a former Archbishop of Benin in Nigeria – had an improper relationship with a Dolores Atwood when she was aged 14 in the 1980s.

As a result of the broadcast, Mr Burke brought a defamation case against RTÉ, claiming that the material used in the documentary branded him as a paedophile. He denied the claims that he had an improper relationship with Ms Atwood while she was a teenager, although he admitted having consensual sex with her when she was 20 years of age.

At the hearing to determine the defamation case against RTÉ, Mr Burke told the court he did not know he was going to be featured in the documentary until it was broadcast and he had been given no opportunity to respond to the allegations – despite Prime Time investigators stating that he had declined to be interviewed for the program.

The court heard that RTÉ denied the claims of defamation, and that Ms Attwood stood by her allegations. Representatives from Prime Time acknowledged that their statement suggesting that Mr Burke declined to be interviewed was incorrect and apologised to the cleric. The hearing was closed without a verdict being reached, as an agreement was reached between the two parties.

Outside the court, RTÉ´s Managing Director of News and Current Affairs – Kevin Bakhurst – told reporter that RTÉ had not paid any compensation to Mr Burke, but was contributing to his costs of bring the defamation case against RTÉ. Mr Burke´s solicitor said that the matter had been resolved to his client´s satisfaction.

David Speedie Awarded €85,000 at High Court Defamation Hearing

Former soccer player David Speedie has been awarded €85,000 compensation for claims he was suspected of criminal activity at a High Court defamation hearing.

Speedie brought his court action after the Sunday World claimed that the former Chelsea and Liverpool soccer player had links with criminal figures and that Gardai had reason to suspect he had been involved in criminal activity.

According to testimony given at the High Court defamation hearing, the newspaper published two articles in April 2011 which gave the impression Speedie was involved in smuggling or the transportation of drugs and had links to gangland crime.

During the five-day High Court defamation hearing, Speedie told the court the articles drew untrue conclusions from the fact that his fiancée is the sister of a woman married to Ritchie Thompson – the brother of convicted criminal “Fat” Freddie Thompson.

Speedie told the jury that the allegations damaged his reputation as a football pundit and led him fearing for his life and those close to him. He said he did not associate with criminals and drug dealers, or socialise with Ritchie Thompson.

The Sunday World, its editor Colm MacGinty and the reporter that wrote the story – Mick McCaffrey – denied that they had defamed Speedie and said that the content of the newspaper articles was true. McCaffrey said that his report was faithful to the notes he had taken on the day of the phone interview with Speedie.

At the end of the High Court defamation hearing, the jury was asked to consider eight questions regarding whether the content of the articles implied Gardai had reason to suspect that Speedie was engaged in criminal activity and associated with known criminals.

After two days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favour of Speedie and awarded him €85,000 compensation. The jury also recommended that the Sunday World publish an apology. Mr Justice John Hedigan told the jury while they may recommend the publishing of an apology, he could not compel the Sunday Mirror to do that.

Woman and Son Secure Compensation for Defamation on Facebook against the HSE

A woman and her son are to receive €40,000 compensation for defamation on Facebook after the settlement of their claim was approved at the High Court.

The woman and her son – who cannot be named for legal reasons – made their claim for compensation for defamation on Facebook following the child being placed in foster care in 2011. It was alleged that while the boy was in the care of foster parents, they posted a number of Facebook entries containing pictures of the boy and making “false, untrue and highly defamatory” statements about his mother.

The woman claimed that the pictures and the comments accompanying them should never have been published on social media, and that – as the Health Service Executive (HSE) was responsible for placing her son in the care of the foster parents – the HSE was in breach of its statutory duty of care. The mother and son also claimed that their rights to privacy under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights had also be breached.

Following further allegations that the woman had been subject to ridicule and contempt, and her character had been damaged, the HSE settled the claim for compensation for defamation on Facebook for €40,000. However, as the claim was partly made on behalf of a child, the settlement had first to be approved by a judge.

Consequently the settlement hearing was held at the High Court before Mr Justice Kevin Cross. After hearing the circumstances of the case, Judge Cross approved the settlement of compensation for defamation on Facebook and awarded costs against the HSE.

“Rogue Reporter” Settles Claim for Defamation by a Former Employer

A journalist, who was called a “rogue reporter” after being made redundant from her job, has settled her claim for defamation by a former employer.

Gemma O´Doherty is an award-winning journalist who broke a number of high-profile stories for the Irish Independent over the course of her eighteen years with the newspaper. In April 2013, Gemma was investigating the wiping of driving licence penalty points by the Irish police force when she called at the home of the former Irish police commissioner, Martin Callinan – who also had penalty points deleted from his licence.

A complaint was made to the newspaper, following which Gemma was told she was being made redundant – the only employee of Independent News & Media to suffer that fate. The Irish Independent maintained that the Callinan visit played no part in her departure; however Gemma was subsequently described as a “rogue reporter” by Stephen Rae – editor-in-chief of the Irish Independent – for approaching the former police commissioner without editorial permission.

Gemma launched an unfair dismissal action and made a claim for defamation by a former employer against Stephen Rae and Independent News & Media. In December 2014, her unfair dismissal action was resolved out-of-court, and this week the High Court was told that Gemma´s claim for defamation by a former employer had also been settled.

The terms of the settlement have not been revealed, but they included an apology to Gemma from Stephen Rae and Independent News & Media which was read out to the court. In the statement, the newspaper and its editor-in-chief acknowledged that Gemma “acted at all times in a diligent and professional manner” and apologised unreservedly for the stress and hardship she and her husband had suffered as a result of the newspaper´s actions.

Speaking after the hearing, Gemma said: “Journalists have an obligation to hold power to account, be it in An Garda Síochána, Dail Eireann, the health service or other institutions of the state. We must be allowed to do our work without fear or favour, defending the public interest and the rights of citizens, especially victims of injustice and the marginalised”.

Singer Settles Defamation Claim for being Depicted as an Alcoholic

A well-known traditional singer has settled his defamation claim for being depicted as an alcoholic in an undisclosed out of court settlement.

Singer Tim Lyons made his defamation claim for being depicted as an alcoholic after a photograph of him appeared on the front cover of “A Nation of Extremes – The Pioneers in Twentieth Century Ireland” – a book written by historian Professor Diarmaid Ferriter and published by the Irish Academic Press.

The photograph was of the singer was taken in a bar beside two pints of stout and what appears to be a glass of spirits, next to a photograph of members of the Pioneers mentioned in the book – the organisation for Catholic teetotallers. Mr Lyons alleged that the photograph depicted him as an alcoholic and had been used without his permission.

Professor Ferriter had attempted to have the defamation claim for being depicted as an alcoholic thrown out in July 2012 on the grounds that he had no input into the design or layout of the book cover. However, Lyons argued successfully that the use of his photograph was a breach of his privacy and Judge Gerald Keyes had turned down the application.

A full hearing of the defamation claim for being depicted as an alcoholic was scheduled to be heard this week. However, prior to the hearing taking place, Judge Keyes was told that an agreement had been reached between the two parties and the case could be struck. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

O´Brien awarded €150,000 Compensation for Defamation by the Irish Daily Mail

Digicel chairman Dennis O´Brien has been awarded €150,000 compensation for defamation by the Irish Daily Mail following a seven-day hearing at the High Court.

On 22nd January 2010, the Irish Daily Mail published an article entitled “Moriarty is about to Report, No Wonder Denis O´Brien is Acting the Saint in Stricken Haiti”. The article commented on O´Brien´s presence in earthquake-struck Haiti shortly before the release of Mr Justice Moriarty´s report into the issuing of the second mobile phone license to O´Brien´s Esat Digifone company.

O´Brien claimed that the article implied his involvement in the Haiti Relief Effort was hypocritical, and intended to deflect attention away from adverse findings in the Moriarty Report. He claimed compensation for defamation by the Irish Daily Mail on the grounds that the article gave the impression that his presence in Haiti was motivated by self-interest and was an “ingenious feint”.

The claim for compensation for defamation by the Irish Daily Mail was contested by the publication´s Editor-in-Chief – Paul Field – and the reporter who had written the article – Paul Drury – who said it was a piece of opinion honestly held on a matter of public interest and, while it might be cynical, there was no agenda against Denis O´Brien.

The claim for compensation for defamation by the Irish Daily Mail went to the High Court in Dublin, where it was heard by a jury before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne. During the seven-day hearing O’Brien claimed that the article was “nasty, spiteful and grubby” and caused damage to his good name and reputation; while the defendants claimed that there was no evidence to support the argument that the newspaper article was malicious.

In his closing statement, O´Brien´s barrister asked the jury to find in his client´s favour, and not only to award him compensation for defamation by the Irish Daily Mail, but also aggravated damages for maliciousness. However, after three hours of deliberation, the jury decided that the article – although not in the public interest – was not malicious, and awarded O´Brien €150,000 compensation for defamation against the Irish Daily Mail.

Businessman Settles Claim for Defamation on Twitter

Declan Ganley has settled his claim for defamation on Twitter against blogger Kevin Barrington out of court for an undisclosed charitable donation.

Declan Ganley – a respected businessman and founder of the pan-European political party Libertas – made a claim for defamation on Twitter after being the victim of “abusive, offensive and false allegations” posted on the social media site by blogger Kevin Barrington in December 2012.

According to the businessman´s solicitor, Declan Ganley initially chose to “turn the other cheek” and ignore the allegations. However, after the volume of abuse escalated, he was put into a position where he had no alternative but to take legal action and make a claim for defamation on Twitter.

The claim for defamation on Twitter is believed to be the first made in Ireland, and it was resolved when Kevin Barrington agreed to remove the offensive Tweets, make a public apology to Declan Ganley in his blog and over Twitter and make a substantial charitable donation to the Poor Clare Sisters.

Legal experts believe that this is not the last claim for defamation on Twitter that will be seen in Ireland. The same defamation laws apply to comments made online as they do to comments published in a newspaper, made on TV or on the radio, and Twitter accounts are not as anonymous as some users believe they are.

Speaking to the Herald, media lawyer Paula Mullooly explained “Generally what you do in those circumstances (where there is an anonymous account) would be to ask Twitter to take down the information. Secondly, you would ask Twitter to identify the IP address. If [Twitter] decline, you can take Twitter to court. This happens not infrequently. You can even track to an internet café.”

Solicitor Wins Claim for being Defamed on a Review Website

A solicitor has won his claim for being defamed on a review website after alleging the website had published wrongful material that damaged his business.

Damien Tansey from Sligo made the claim for being defamed on a review website after defamatory comments about his solicitor´s practise appeared on the website. Mr Tansey alleged that the operators of the website – John Gill from Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare; and Ann Vogelaar from Westport in County Mayo – allowed defamatory comments to be made by individuals who had never used his legal services.

As part of his claim for being defamed on a review website, Mr Tansey requested that the defamatory material was removed and that he was provided with the names and addresses of the individuals who had posted negative comments. Both Gill and Vogelaar contested the claim for being defamed on a review website, and the US-based Internet service provider Dotster Inc – against whom the claim was also made – did not enter a defence.

The claim for being defamed on a review website went to the High Court, where it was heard by Mr Justice Michael Peart. Judge Peart was told that defamatory material had been posted on the website since 2007 that had damaged Mr Tansey´s character, reputation and business – resulting in him suffering embarrassment, loss and damage.

After reviewing a selection of the material published on the website, Judge Peart said that he was entirely satisfied that the material “was seriously defamatory of Mr Tansey”. The judge said he had no hesitation in granting injunctions against Gill and Vogelaar and he ordered them to end the operation of the website pending a full hearing of the claim for being defamed on a review website.

Judge Peart added that any defence put forward against the claim for being defamed on a review website had little reasonable prospect of succeeding, and he called for a change to the law to prevent “unscrupulous persons or ill-motivated malcontents to vent their anger and grievances against people, where their allegations are patently untrue and unreasonable”.