High Court fines media €65k over contempt

SUNDAY WORLD crime editor Paul Williams was among a number of journalists, newspaper editors and media organisations fined €60,000, plus legal costs, by a High Court judge.

The publisher of Mr Williams’ latest book, Crime Wars, was fined €5,000.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern imposed the fines for criminal contempt of court orders restricting reporting of certain proceedings brought by the Criminal Assets Bureau arising from its investigation into the assets of a Dublin criminal.

The contempt findings are against two newspaper editors; Colin McGinty, Sunday World editor, and Des Gibson, editor of the Star on Sunday; two journalists, Mr Williams, and Ken Foy of the Star on Sunday; two newspaper publishers, Independent Star Ltd, publisher of The Star on Sunday and Sunday News Ltd, publisher of the Sunday World; and Merlin Books Ltd, publishers of Mr Williams’ Crime Wars.

The judge imposed a €30,000 fine on the Star group defendants and a similar fine on the Sunday World group defendants.

Merlin was fined €5,000 after the company had taken several steps to withdraw the book from sale and to recall copies already distributed following the judge’s December 19 finding that some material in the book was also in criminal contempt.

The judge stressed the contempt finding in Merlin’s case was “extremely serious” because of the content of certain material published in the book which had caused great anxiety to the persons affected.

The judge noted he had already raised questions as to how Mr Williams got the information complained of.

Noting arguments by Eoin McCullough SC that the media respondents were unaware of the reporting restrictions and intended no contempt, the judge said the respondents should have known of the reporting restrictions set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and had a duty to inform themselves of the general provisions of that act.

While noting all the respondents had apologised and stated they had never intended to commit contempt, the judge said what they had done remained a serious interference with the court process.

As well as imposing the fines, the judge also directed the respondents pay the costs of the two persons who had sought the contempt orders but refused an application for the respondents to pay CAB’s costs.

The contempt orders were sought by John O’Donnell for two of four persons against whom proceedings have been brought by CAB arising from its investigation into the assets and activities of a Dublin criminal. The court made orders preventing publication of any material which would identify the persons.

The applicants claimed, after the CAB proceedings were brought, articles had appeared in the Sunday World and the Star on Sunday newspapers which identified them, causing them worry and distress. They also claimed the Sunday World article was based on extracts from Crime Wars, published in October 2008.

Mr McCullough argued the contempt complained of was “technical” and unintended and represented only a small portion of the book and newspaper articles complained of.

The articles and book outlined serious matters, publication of which was in the public interest, and only a very diligent reader would have been able to identify the applicants from them.

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