Counsel for SBP tells jury Denis O'Brien defamation is 'disgraceful' and should be 'thrown out in its entirety'

An action by Denis O’Brien alleging he was defamed in articles in the Sunday Business Post is a “disgraceful” action for the businessman to have brought, a High Court jury has been told.

Counsel for SBP tells jury Denis O'Brien defamation is 'disgraceful' and should be 'thrown out in its entirety'

An action by Denis O’Brien alleging he was defamed in articles in the Sunday Business Post is a “disgraceful” action for the businessman to have brought, a High Court jury has been told.

Mr O’Brien’s case is “wholly unfounded, manufactured, false, irresponsible and malicious” and should be “thrown out in its entirety”, Michael McDowell SC said.

Mr O’Brien has come to court to get damages because he “wants to exercise power” over the Sunday Business Post (SBP), “punish people whom he claims were malicious towards him” and “project his power” towards them by exposing them as malicious.

Mr O’Brien had been “vicious” in some of his evidence towards journalist Tom Lyons and former SBP editor Ian Kehoe and attacked Mr Lyons in a “really disgraceful” way in relation to how the latter had written a separate article in the Sunday Independent in 2012 concerning “buccaneer” borrowers from Anglo Irish Bank, he said.

The jury heard “false” evidence from Mr O’Brien concerning communications between him and the former owner of the SBP, Conor Killeen, counsel said.

Mr O’Brien had insisted there was such correspondence but had not produced it, he said. “The dog ate my homework.”

The jury should “think long and hard” about the motivation and values and willingness to do damage to others when considering this case, he said.

Mr McDowell also urged the jury to reject evidence from Mr O’Brien that being referred to as a developer is defamatory and that he is not a “developer”.

Being called a developer is not defamatory, counsel said.

Mr O’Brien had described a number of situations, including his purchase of a two storey premises in Donnybrook with a view to building a 26 storey block of apartments, which he "brazenly" said did not make him a developer, counsel outlined.

The jury, he said, should reject Mr O’Brien’s “folksy phoney false account” the reason he put a golf and leisure resort at Quinta da Lago in Portugal for sale for €220 million arose from remarks by his wife and he took it off the market because his elderly mother really liked the resort.

There is “overwhelming evidence“ Mr O’Brien “has been a developer all his adult life”, he said. That did not mean Mr O’Brien is not also a telecoms entrepreneur and owner of Digicel and has another “perhaps more dominant economic existence”.

Mr McDowell was making closing arguments in Mr O’Brien’s action alleging he was defamed in articles published in the SBP on March 15th 2015 over six pages.

The articles named Mr O'Brien as among the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008 and their focus was a PwC report about the exposure of Ireland’s banks in 2008.

That report was given to the government in November 2008 but not made public.

Tom Lyons
Tom Lyons

Mr Lyons got it from a source in 2015 and shredded it shortly after the articles were published to protect the source.

Mr O'Brien claims the articles, with headlines including “The Gang of 22” wrongly meant he was among a “gang” of 22 borrowers who “wrecked the country”, they defamed him and injured his reputation.

The defendant, Post Publications Ltd, denies the words mean what he alleges, denies defamation and malicious publication, and has pleaded "fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest".

On Tuesday, Mr McDowell said Mr Lyons and Mr Kehoe had given evidence, because of the “fear factor” concerning Mr O’Brien, they considered leaving him out of the articles but explained they could not be reduced by threats or fear of litigation by making no reference to Mr O’Brien. That evidence “rings true and is true”, he said.

An editor who “out of cowardice” would exclude the name Denis O’Brien would not be worthy of being an editor, he said.

Mr O’Brien was saying they were lying and included him to damage him and said things they knew were untrue about him, he said.

The jury must decide who is telling the truth, the “flamboyant” Mr O’Brien who says he was the “victim” and the “central figure” in the articles when he “was not”.

The PwC report put Mr O’Brien as number 10 of the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008, he said.

Noone in 2015 who construed the articles as meaning Mr O’Brien faced financial pressure in 2008 could, when also told he had repaid all his loans, was the best customer of Irish banks and a successful mobile phone and media entrepreneur, consider that defamatory, counsel said.

It was untrue to say Mr O’Brien was given a central role in the coverage, the story was “simply not about him”, he said.

It was also incorrect to say a pen picture of Mr O’Brien in one article was a “needle in the haystack” in the context of the overall coverage. That pen picture contained information from the PwC report and also said he had repaid all his debts to Anglo and is one of AIB and Bank of Ireland’s best clients.

“Not one word of defamation, not one word of criticism against him, just truth,” counsel said.

Arguments on behalf of Mr O’Brien will begin later today.

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