Porn offender still capable of having character defamed, judge rules

A convicted porn user who had openly admitted his guilt and had sought psychiatric help is still capable of having his “residual” character defamed, a judge decided today.

Judge Joseph Matthews said that 34-year-old Barry Watters, of Hazelwood Avenue, Dundalk, Co Louth, had suffered a substantial loss of reputation through his guilt, conviction and imprisonment on pornographic charges.

But he could not reasonably be said to be in the same category as a convicted prisoner who refused to accept his guilt, remained in denial and do absolutely nothing with no remorse, contrition, acceptance of wrong doing or show any intention to rehabilitate or not re-offend.

Judge Mathews told barrister Hugh Mohan, S.C., who appeared with James Mc Cullough, for Watters, that their client retained a residual reputation capable of being damaged by allegations suggested in an article in The Star on Sunday in September last.

Watters had asked the Circuit Civil Court judge to direct the newspaper to publish an apology for stating he had formed “a seedy and weird relationship” in prison with Larry Murphy and referring to Watters as “a twisted pervert.”

For the first time under the 2009 Defamation Act a person considering himself defamed had sought a summary declaration from the court that false and defamatory statements had been published about him and sought a court order directing The Star on Sunday to publish an apology.

The newspaper had argued there could be no defamation because the newspaper could not have damaged Watters’ reputation beyond that of his own admission last year in a criminal court of his involvement in child porn offences and his subsequent imprisonment for three years.

The newspaper had carried an article under the heading “Larry’s Secret Shower Buddy” in which it said Larry Murphy, “The Beast of Baltinglass,” had been rumoured to have become close to Watters, “another twisted pervert” while in Arbour Hill Prison.

The article had stated that Murphy had been released in August after having served just 10 years of a 15-year sentence for the brutal abduction, rape and attempted murder of a Carlow business woman in 2000.

Watters had claimed the article by way of innuendo implied he was engaged in an illicit homosexual relationship with Murphy which he said was untrue. While acknowledging that his own actions had injured his reputation the article had further injured his reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society.

Judge Mathews said Mr Eoin Mc Cullough, S.C., who appeared with Mr Shane English for the newspaper, had argued that Watters was a man effectively of no reputation and undeserving of any legal protection.

To argue that Watters was beyond the pale of reputation was, in a material sense, to ignore his guilty plea, expression of remorse and contrition and his confession to a chronic addiction to child pornography.

He had availed of psychiatric evaluation and psychological assessment, sought help in Arbour Hill Sexual Offenders Treatment Programme and earnestly wished to be rehabilitated into society and citizenship.

Watters had also been open and honest with his family about his addiction.

“He has because of the manner in which he has met the case against him in the Circuit Criminal Court a residue of reputation that is capable of being damaged and fits into a category of prisoner who is different in degree, if not in kind, to those who, in similar circumstances, simply deny all wrongdoing despite their conviction,” the judge said.

He said admission of guilt mandated mitigation of sentence and the gravity of the offence must be contrasted with the real and personal circumstances of the offender. If this was so as a matter of sentencing law and policy so too it ought to be for reputation and loss of reputation in defined and particular circumstances.

Judge Mathews said Mr Watters was entitled to a declaratory order that the article was defamatory and the court directed publication of a correction of the defamatory statement. The Act provided for the parties to agree the content of the correction and apology and if they were unable to do so the court could direct publication of the court’s judgment.

He granted Mr Watters, who had not sought damages against The Star on Sunday, an order prohibiting the newspaper from further publishing the false and defamatory statements it had made.

The case was adjourned for a week to facilitate consideration of an appeal.

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