Pilot claims Ryanair started 'war' against three group members after email on share price

By Ann O'Loughlin

Ryanair started "a war" against three members of a pilots group after the publication of an email the airline says falsely inferred it misled the market, the High Court has been told.

Evert Van Zwol, one of three Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) founders being sued for defamation, said once the airline brought its defamation proceedings it was his opinion that Ryanair "was starting a war against us" and as a result the group had to be "even more careful" about what it published.

Captain Van Zwol, along with two other RPG founders John Goss and Ted Murphy, are being sued over a September 2013 email issued to pilots on behalf of the RPG. The three deny the email, headed "Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair", was defamatory.

Capt Van Zwol was on his second day of cross-examination by Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair.

Mr Hayden asked why the RPG did not send out updates containing good news about Ryanair given that the aim of the September 2013 was to keep pilots abreast of information about Ryanair and had included bad news about its share values.

Capt Van Zwol said once the Ryanair initiated this legal action, which was shortly after the email was published, the RPG knew it had to be more careful. Ryanair was partly successful in ensuring that by bringing these proceedings, he said.

He denied the intention of the update was to "outcast management in the eyes of pilots".

"My intention was to only publish the facts," he said.

Pressed about why the RPG did not send out more updates about other Ryanair financial matters, such as the fact that it got €400m for the sale of its shares in Aer Lingus, he said once the legal proceedings started "the game had changed".

"We were being sued for telling the plain facts about Ryanair and we had become more careful than we had been before," he said.

He said it was unfortunate that they had to become more careful because he would have wished for a more open atmosphere in which "Ryanair would give us more space to do the job we were elected to do".

Mr Hayden put it to him: "You brought up a potential breach of (Ryanair's) reporting obligations to the market for the very simple reason that you wanted to add to this update a further indictment of management".

This was no so, Capt Van Zwol replied. If there was any hard evidence of this he would have agreed that it be put into the update but the update was done with the inputs of a number of people and their thoughts which generally means an improved end result, he said.

Capt Van Zwol, who last week said he accepted there was error in the update in relation to the date for the sale of Ryanair shares by management figures, said the airline's share price at the time the update was published was checked by one of the group of people contributing to compiling the update. He was satisfied it was correct.

While most updates were sent directly by email to pilots, he had suggested they be posted on Facebook but this idea was not accepted by others in the group.

He disagreed the setting up of a Dutch legal entity, known as a "stichting", to act for the RPG, was done so that they could also publish on Facebook and then hide behind that vehicle should they be sued.

"No I never thought the stichting was a vehicle I could hide behind, that would have been very foolish of me," he said.

The case continues.

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