A man who gave evidence in the murder trial of Catherine Nevin cannot continue a legal action against a newspaper over an article stating he tried to sell it photographs of him and Mrs Nevin naked in bed together, the High Court has ruled.
William McClean, one of two men whose testimony formed part of Mrs Nevin’s eventual conviction in 2000 for the murder of her husband Tom, claimed the Sunday World defamed him in an April 2000 article which, he said, falsely stated he offered the photos to the paper’s then crime correspondent, Paul Williams, for a payment of IR£10,000 (€12,700).
He claimed the article also libelled him in a number of other respects, including saying he “bragged about his sexual prowess” during his conversations with Mr Williams. He was also defamed he said as the paper falsely stated, among other things, he was involved with serious criminals like the late Martin Cahill and was a suspect in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.
On April 7 last, Sunday Newspapers Ltd, trading as the Sunday World, asked the High Court to dismiss Mr McClean’s action over delay in bringing it. Yesterday, Mr Justice Max Barrett granted the paper’s application.
The judge was in April told by Eoin McCullough, for the paper, that it was alleged that the offer of money for the photos was discussed in a Terenure pub in March 2000, between Mr McClean and Mr Williams, with Detective Sergeant Joe O’Hara also present.
It is further alleged it was discussed again in the Sunday World offices, then in Terenure, with Mr McClean and Mr Williams present along with other representatives of the paper, Mike McNiff and Alan Murphy.
Mr McClean said all the claims were false and defamatory. The Sunday World said they were true.
In seeking to have Mr McClean’s action dismissed, the paper said the delay in prosecuting his action, which was initiated in 2000, prejudiced its right to a fair trial. Mr McClean opposed the strike-out application.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Barrett said that as of November 2002, when the parties were “teetering” on the trial of the action, “everything stopped” until April 2010 when Mr McClean issued a notice of intention to proceed. In 2013, the paper initiated its application seeking a strike out.
The judge said Mr McClean had said, in an affidavit, that after he first initiated legal action in 2000, the paper desisted from publishing stories about him. He said he “took comfort” from this and to an extent was happy “to let sleeping dogs lie”, but it was all reactivated by the publication of another story in the Sunday World in March 2010.
He said this made clear to him the paper was intent on destroying his reputation. The court’s conclusion was that Mr McClean “took the tactical view” that so long as stories stopped, he would not prosecute his case.
“To paraphrase Wilde, for the plaintiff not to continue with his proceedings once was perhaps misfortunate; not to do so twice seems little short of carelessness,” the judge said.
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