Football coach seeks extension so he can bring defamation action against newspaper

Football coach seeks extension so he can bring defamation action against newspaper

An Irish football coach is seeking High Court permission to take defamation proceedings over a newspaper report of the French court hearing at which he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for smuggling merchandise dangerous to public health.

Darren Lee Proudfoot needs permission to bring a case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), publishers of the Irish Daily Mirror, because he is seeking to do so outside a one year deadline for bringing defamation actions.

Mr Proudfoot, who is originally from Dublin, was travelling from his apartment in Alicante, Spain, with a friend when the hire car he was driving was stopped by customs officials near Avignon, France, in January 2018.

The car contained thousands of packets of Zoplicone, a psychotropic drug used to treat sleep disorders.

Both men were arrested and their case was fast tracked through the French justice system. Mr Proudfoot admitted in Nimes Criminal Court to smuggling merchandise dangerous to public health without documentary evidence. He was sentenced to 18 months and fined.

He appealed the sentence, eventually served six-and-a-half months and was released in August 2018.

Around the time he was sentenced, the Irish Daily Mirror carried a report of the court hearing and of the sentence.

Mr Proudfoot has asked the High Court to extend the one year time limit (from date of publication) for bringing his defamation proceedings over that report against Mirror publishers MGN.

He claims a reference to him in that report as being "a known dealer and was under surveillance in his home country" was completely false.

MGN denies defamation and says it was a fair and accurate report covered by qualified privilege which applies to reports of foreign proceedings.

In an affidavit seeking extension of time, Mr Proudfoot said he had hired a car and driven from Alicante to France at the request of his friend who was ill.

His friend said he wished to buy medication and did so in Spain. After they were stopped by French customs officials and charged, he pleaded guilty to possession of dangerous drugs and was sentenced to 18 months which was reduced on appeal.

He said his brother sent him the newspaper report while he was in prison in May. The claim in the report that he was a known drug dealer and under surveillance was false and seriously damaging to his reputation, he said.

As a result, he found it impossible to get employment from his previous employers as a football coach, he said.

He said he had gone to a number of solicitors when he returned to Ireland but only got one to take the case last February, which was already outside the one year time limit. As a result he had to bring the application for an extension which can be granted, in circumstances, for another year.

Richard Lyons SC, for Mr Proudfoot, said there would be no meaningful prejudice to the defendant as MGN was still capable of adducing the evidence it required, such as that from the court reporter who filed the report or court officials present at the hearing.

One of the primary reasons he was unable to bring defamation proceedings before the one year deadline was he was incarcerated for six and a half months, counsel said.

Shane English BL, for MGN, said not only could he have made efforts to initiate proceedings while in prison, having learned of the report in May 2018, he had not discharged the burden on him to show good reason for further delay once he was released.

As a defendant MGN was only required to say it has a good defence and it was a good defence of a fair and accurate report of foreign court proceedings.

There was a requirement for a plaintiff in defamation to act expeditiously, counsel said. There was a prejudice to his client from the loss of the deadline period and the financial burden imposed on it.

Mr Proudfoot had said he would be unable to discharge the costs of a trial should he loss, he said.

Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he hopes to give his decision this Thursday.

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