‘Sunday World’ appeals €85k defamation award to footballer

Former Premiership footballer David Speedie arriving at the Court of Appeal. Picture: Courtpix

The Sunday World has appealed a High Court jury’s award of €85,000 for defamation to former English Premiership footballer David Speedie.

In June last year, the jury made the award after finding the paper had defamed him by saying gardaí had reason to suspect him of being involved in criminal activity.

The Sunday World, in its arguments to the appeal court, said that question — of whether gardaí suspected him — should never have been put to the jury.

Mr Speedie’s lawyers argued it was an appropriate question and opposed the appeal.

The paper wants the damages award overturned while Mr Speedie wants the €85,000 increased by the appeal court.

The case relates to two articles printed in April 2011.

Mr Speedie, who played for Liverpool and Chelsea among other clubs, claimed Sunday Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the paper, defamed him by linking him to criminal figures in those articles.

The paper, its editor, and the reporter denied the claim and said the words in the stories were true.

The first article was headlined ‘Kops and Robbers’ — part of Liverpool’s stadium is known as the Kop — while the second was published two weeks later in response to a letter from Mr Speedie’s solicitor. The second was headlined ‘Speedy the Snake’ with a photograph of Mr Speedie handling a snake.

Mr Speedie claimed that the stories falsely meant that he was engaged in criminal activity and that he had links to gangland crime.

Oisin Quinn, counsel for Sunday Newspapers, said the High Court case had not been run on the basis of the question on which the jury decided to award damages - that the first of the two articles meant gardaí suspected him of being involved in criminal activity.

It was not a reasonable finding that the first article had that meaning and the question should therefore not have been put on the issue paper which the jury had to consider, he said. This was the basis on which damages were assessed making the verdict unsafe, he said.

It had also offended against the “single meaning rule” which provides a jury cannot bring in a range of meanings to a question before it, counsel said.

The paper had been completely vindicated in the High Court in relation to the meanings in the second article, he said.

Mark Harty, counsel for Mr Speedie, said it was not the garda suspicion the paper sought to justify in the High Court but it sought to justify innuendo that what was meant was he was involved in crime or suspected of involvement.

The meaning of the words was a matter for the jury and the way the case had been run was irrelevant, he said.

The jury not only found the meaning it did but it had said the Sunday World should print a sincere apology to Mr Speedie.

While Mr Harty accepted this had not been sought and may have been outside the power of the jury, it showed what the jury thought of the allegation being made.

The Court of Appeal reserved its decision.


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