Trust headed by Dermot Desmond suing over alleged 'leak' of details of Sean Dunne property sale

By Ann O'Loughlin

Businessman Dermot Desmond and members of his family are suing the Insolvency service of Ireland and the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy, Mr Chris Lehane, over the alleged leaking of confidential material to a newspaper concerning an agreement to buy a property that had been owned by developer Sean Dunne.

The case centres around an agreement by a trust set up to the benefit of Mr Desmond's four children to purchase in December 2016 a property known as 'Walford' on Dublin 4's Shrewsbury Road form its owners the Cypriot registered Yesreb Holdings.

Mr Desmond, his children Zoe, Brett, Ross and Derry and the Isle of Man-registered Celtic Trustees Ltd trust claim confidential material in letters sent to the defendants about the agreement appeared in the Sunday Business Post three days later.

Dermot Desmond.

Due to the alleged "leak" the Desmonds claim their rights to privacy was breached and they are seeking damages, including aggravated and punitive damages from the defendants.

Mr Lehane and the service deny the claims, and say they did not disclose any material to any third party, or that any breach of privacy or confidentiality has occurred.

They say they are not responsible for the newspaper's conduct, against whom no proceedings have been issued by the plaintiffs.

They claim the plaintiffs ought to have known any purchase agreement for Walford would result in significant controversy given the media interest in Mr Dunne's bankruptcy.

Issues concerning the ownership of Walford, which was bought for €58m by Mr Dunne in 2005, are the subject of separate legal actions before the Commercial Court.

Sean Dunne.

The plaintiffs claimed that after the sale agreement was entered into Mr Lehane, who is the official in charge of Mr Dunne's bankruptcy, brought legal proceedings against Yesreb and registered a lean or a lis pendens against Walford.

On January 5, 2017, Mr Desmond's solicitor, in a letter marked private and confidential, wrote to Mr Lehane requesting that the lis Pendens be vacated.

The letter also disclosed Mr Desmond was the settlor of the trust, the only beneficiaries were his children, and that the trust had acquired the property from Yesreb on December 6, 2016.

The following day, in a reply from Mr Lehane's lawyers, Mr Desmond was informed the lis pendens would not be vacated, that the property was beneficially owned by Mr Dunne, and the trust should provide Mr Lehane with certain details about the sale.

The plaintiffs claim the correspondence was disclosed to third parties, including a journalist as details in the letters appeared in the Sunday Business Post on the 8th and 15th of January.

They allege the leak, which they claim came from the defendants, breached their right to privacy resulting in them suffering loss and damage.

The case came before Ms Justice Caroline Costello today when both sides brought pre-trial motions seeking the discovery of certain documentation they say is relevant to their pleadings.

The plaintiffs sought discovery from the defendants of all documents relating to any communications by the defendants to any media outlet in relation to the Sean Dunne bankruptcy or related litigation.

They claimed it was necessary to establish their claim that the defendants were the source of the leak.

This was opposed by the defendants on the grounds what was being sought was not necessary and a fishing expedition.

The defendants said it had agreed other categories of discovery including all documents relating to any communications by the defendants to media outlets referred to in the correspondence between the parties between January 5, 2016, and January 15, 2016.

In its application the defendants sought all documents relating to the sale agreement in respect of Walford, which the plaintiffs had refused to provide.

In her ruling Ms Justice Costello said she was satisfied not to make the discovery order sought by the plaintiffs for "a combination of reasons" including that the material sought was "speculative."

However, she ruled the material sought by the defendants was relevant to a case being advanced and should be provided to the defendants within eight weeks.

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