Independent Star Ltd., publishers of the Star Sunday newspaper which was found to have defamed a convicted child porn user, has been fined €40,000 for contempt of court.
Judge Joseph Mathews also directed Star Sunday to publish a correction of defamatory statements it made about Barry Watters (aged 34) of Hazelwood Avenue, Dundalk, Co Louth.
He ordered the newspaper to carry a fair summary of the judgment in which he found that Watters had been defamed and that it be given equal half-page prominence as given to the initial defamatory article.
Barrister Hugh Mohan, S.C., told the Circuit Civil Court yesterday that Star Sunday, having libelled Mr Watters, committed contempt of court by repeating the slander. It had stated in headline print beside a picture of Mr Watters: “We may have to apologise to this revolting pervert…Will we mean it? Hell No.”
Judge Mathews initially found Star Sunday defamed Watters by stating he had developed a close relationship while in Arbour Hill prison with “another twisted pervert, the Beast of Baltinglass, convicted rapist Larry Murphy,” suggesting homosexual ties which Watters denied.
Mr Mohan, who appeared with James Mc Cullough for Watters, asked that Star Sunday be ordered to publish a summary of the court’s judgment and the correction in its next edition. He asked him to fine the newspaper for contempt.
Eoin Mc Cullough, S.C., for Star Sunday, said the contempt of court had been unintentional in that while the newspaper intended to publish what it published it had not known it was committing a comtempt by doing so.
He said Star Sunday was anxious to get it across to the court it was sorry for what it had done. It had not intended to repeat the libel and apologised both to the court and to Mr Watters who had sought the attachment and imprisonment of the newspaper’s editor, Des Gibson.
Mr Mc Cullough, who appeared with barrister Shane English, said that since the defamation was the first to have been dealt with under the new 2009 Defamation Act he considered it appropriate that the court should restrict punishment to a fine.
Mr Mohan said he did not accept that the contempt and the repetition of the libel was unintentional. It had been deliberately designed to interfere with the administration of the business of the court.
Judge Mathews said he accepted the apology delivered by Mr Mc Cullough. He felt it appropriate that a summary of his judgment be published next Sunday with equal prominence to the layout of the original defamatory article.
He imposed a fine of €40,000 to be paid by Independent Star Ltd within a month.