Denis O'Brien tells jury he did not receive apology over Sunday Independent article

Denis O'Brien tells jury he did not receive apology over Sunday Independent article
Businessman Denis O'Brien arriving at the High Court in Dublin today. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Businessman Denis O’Brien has told a High Court jury the Sunday Independent had not apologised to him over an article it published in 2012 concerning borrowings of himself and others from Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr O’Brien remains under cross-examination in his action against Post Publications Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Business Post, in which he is seeking substantial damages over separate articles published in the SBP in March 2015 relating to the exposure of Irish banks in 2008 .

Asked today about his earlier evidence last week he believed he had received an apology over “coverage” from Independent group managing editor Michael Denieffe, Mr O'Brien said he had said a number of times last week he wasn’t entirely sure about that and would check.

Having had the opportunity later last Friday to check correspondence, he said there was an apology bit that had “nothing to do” with the Sunday Independent article of April 2012, written by journalists Tom Lyons and Nick Webb and published with a strapline, Anglo’s Top 13 Buccaneer Borrowers.

He said he apologised for the confusion.

Mr O’Brien was also asked today about other evidence last week that he believed he had received a letter from Conor Killeen, a former owner of the Sunday Business Post, in which Mr Killeen had said he, Mr Killeen, had some control over editorial content of the newspaper.

Mr O’Brien said he had been unable to locate such a letter but he did remember there was one.

When Michael McDowell SC, for the SBP, suggested there was no such letter, Mr O’Brien said: “I entirely disagree. I do remember the letter.”

He also said there were conversations with Mr Killeen.

When counsel suggested there were no such conversations, in writing or otherwise, in which Mr Killeen had said he had editorial control over the SBP, Mr O’Brien said that was not his recollection.

Asked had he asked Mr Killeen about such a letter, he said he thought that was “pointless” as Mr Killeen was up to recently the owner of the SBP “and I’m not sure he would have been in the mood to co-operate with me.”

Mr O’Brien was also asked about an email from journalist Tom Lyons sent to Mr O'Brien's spokesman James Morrissey on the Friday before the Sunday Independent article of April 15th2012 was published.

In that email, Mr Lyons asked a number of questions concerning Mr O’Brien’s banking affairs with IBRC and the financial position of his company Digicel.

Mr O’Brien said he had told Mr Morrissey to inform Mr Lyons there would be no comment concerning the questions.

When counsel put to Mr O’Brien he had wrongly accused Mr Lyons of having low standards when Mr Lyons had sought responses from Mr O'Brien, Mr O’Brien asked what right had Mr Lyons to ask about a person’s private banking matters.

It was “extraordinary” that a journalist would be “that ballsy and then get the numbers all wrong”, he said.

He also said he was entitled not to say what the correct numbers were.

It was not fair and “verging on voyeurism” to try and find out details of his confidential banking affairs.

“I have a right to privacy.” If others were asked such persons, they would be told where to “get off” and his response was polite.

He also said he was never a burden on any bank. He became a customer of Anglo Irish Bank in 19909 and had nothing to do with it becoming insolvent.

Mr McDowell said, in relation to the SBP articles, Mr Lyons felt, and still believes, he was entitled to inform the Irish public that a huge amount of indebtedness was concentrated in a small number of people incuding Mr O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien said he disagreed.

Mr McDowell put to Mr O’Brien that, given his no comment response to Mr Lyons concerning the 2012 article, and the fact he considered his banking affairs totally private, it was not fair to complain now that Mr Lyons had not asked him details about his banking affairs when compiling the SBP articles.

Mr O’Brien said Mr Lyons should not have published details of his banking affairs in articles that described a “gang” of 22.

There was a difference between being called a "buccaneer" and a member of a gang, he said.

Mr McDowell said the dictionary definition describes a buccaneer as a pirate usually operating in the Caribbean and asked he seriously saying that was a complimentary term.

Mr O’Brien said he still considered a buccaneer was not a derogatory term but a gang is.

Counsel suggested his evidence on Thursday was calculated to discredit Mr Lyons and the SBP when compared with the Sunday Independent.

Mr O’Brien said the difference was “chalk and cheese”. The Sunday Independent did not describe him as part of a gang of 13 that wrecked the country and did not run articles over six pages, he said.

He said no number concerning his banking affairs should have been published unless it was accurate.

He also reiterated he was a “property investor” and not a developer.

Mr O’Brien’s action is against Post Publications Ltd, publishers of the SBP, over articles whose focus was a report concerning exposure in 2008 of Ireland's banks, compiled by Price WaterhouseCoopers (PWC). The report was provided to the government in November 2008 and obtained in 2015 by the newspaper but destroyed shortly afterwards to protect the source who provided it.

The articles, written by journalists Tom Lyons, Gavin Sheridan and others, include a front page article headlined "22 men and €26 billion" with a subheading: "The secret report that convinced Cowen the banks weren't bust."

Mr O'Brien claims the various articles wrongly meant he was among 22 borrowers identified with the downfall of Ireland and the bankruptcy of its banking system and injured his reputation.

The defendant denies defamation, denies the words complained of mean what Mr O'Brien says and denies malicious publication. It has also pleaded "fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest".

The case continues.

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