Paper considers appeal after O’Brien victory

The Irish Daily Mail is considering a Supreme Court appeal after millionaire businessman Denis O’Brien was awarded €150,000 for defamation in a key case concerning freedom of expression.

The money was awarded by a High Court jury, but it decided against aggravated damages.

Mr O’Brien said he was “delighted” and felt vindicated. He said freedom of expression was an important part of democracy. Everybody, he said, should have a right to their good name.

The article by Paul Drury and published on Jan 22, 2010, after the devastating Haitian earthquake, was headlined: “Moriarty is about to report, no wonder Denis O’Brien is acting the saint in stricken Haiti.”

Mr O’Brien, aged 54, claimed the article meant his involvement in the Haiti relief effort was a hypocritical act and an attempt to deflect attention from the Moriarty Tribunal report which contained findings adverse to him but which he disputes.

The claims were denied by Associated Newspapers, the publishers of the Mail; by two editors; and by Mr Drury, who said it was opinion honestly held on a matter of public interest.

The jury agreed the article implied Mr O’Brien’s involvement in relief work was a hypocritical act. It found the article represented the defendants’ honest opinion but did not find the opinion was based on allegations of fact proved to be true or that they may have been known, or might reasonably be expected to have been known, by readers.

The jury also found the opinion expressed was not a matter of public interest.

Michael Keely, on behalf of Associated, said his side was disappointed and it was a very sad day. The newspaper would uphold the right of all its columnists to give their views even though some may find it uncomfortable. He said Associated was considering an appeal.

Addressing the jury yesterday, Oisin Quinn, counsel for the Mail, said what the jury would decide would resound outside the courtroom. The heart of the case was the importance of letting people express opinion and having the courage to give their opinion when up against somebody important, counsel said.

Paul O’Higgins, for Mr O’Brien, told the jury it was a case about freedom of expression but the fact Mr O’Brien was rich was not relevant as newspapers wrote every day about people who are not wealthy and who are aggrieved about what was written about them. Those people could not afford to take on the papers, he said.

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