It was "fair and reasonable" to publish an article stating officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau called to solicitor Gerald Kean’s Dublin office as part of the bureau's probe into the Kinahan crime gang, journalist Michael O’Toole has told a High Court jury.
Mr O’Toole, Crime Correspondent of the Irish Daily Star, said Mr Kean is "not just a celebrity but a public figure".
There was huge public interest in the activities of the Kinahan gang and the efforts of gardai and CAB to combat the gang, he said.
He considered the Hutch-Kinahan feud, which has lead to about 18 killings, the biggest threat to the State, going "to the heart of democracy in Ireland” and was aware of Dubliner Sean McGovern’s links to that gang prior to the Regency Hotel shooting of February 2016 in which Mr McGovern was wounded, he said.
Mr O’Toole said he is an award-winning journalist and author and was satisfied the article written by him on March 10, 2016 and published on March 11, 2016 in the Star fairly and accurately represented what happened when CAB called to Mr Kean's office on March 10, 2016.
It stated CAB went to Mr Kean's office with a search warrant and took away paperwork concerning the purchase of a house at Kildare Road, Crumlin, by Mr McGovern.
Mr O'Toole said he did not name other professionals whose offices were visited by CAB that day as part of the same probe because he did not know their identities and still does not know who they are.
The article stated CAB had “called” to Mr Kean's office because that was fair and accurate and a "polite and nice" way to say what happened and also stated Mr Kean co-operated with the CAB officers,
It further stated Mr Kean was “caught up” in the search operation and gave a “global picture” of Mr Kean, including reference to his charity work and to his having been convicted for drink driving in 2009, he said.
Journalism “is not necessarily about writing things people like” but to explain to people what is happening and he was satisfied the article gave a “full and grounded explanation of the entire issue”.
“I stand over it, I would do it again,” he told Eoin McCullough SC, for the newspaper.
He was giving evidence in the continuing action by Mr Kean alleging defamation in the article, headlined “Kean caught up in CAB probe”. Mr Kean claims it wrongly meant he was linked to gangland crime and has damaged him personally and professionally.
Independent Star Ltd denies defamation and has pleaded fair and reasonable publication in the public interest on a matter of public benefit.
Beginning his cross-examination, Paul O’Higgins SC, put to Mr O’Toole the ultimate source of confidential information given to him about the CAB visit to Mr Kean’s office must have been the gardaí.
Counsel said it is a criminal offence for a garda or those working with them under contract to give any information leading to identification of any person who has given confidential information to a garda.
Mr O’Toole said he could not disclose the source of his information but it was not a garda, anyone in CAB or anyone engaged under contract or any arrangement with the gardaí. He was satisfied the information provided by the source was accurate.
He was grateful to and respected and admired people who give him information and considered Ireland to be an "overly secretive" country.
He agreed he had written all of the story on March 10, 2016, except a paragraph outlining Mr Kean’s response when contacted by Keith Falkiner, another journalist with the Star, about the CAB visit.
He agreed the Star had not contacted Mr Kean until after 8pm that day and said that was because he was fearful, if Mr Kean was contacted earlier, the story might end up in another newspaper.
Earlier, Mr Falkiner said, when he had asked Mr Kean whether he was aware of a number of raids by CAB that day on a number of premises, including Mr Kean’s, Mr Kean responded there was “no raid on my office, absolutely not, no f*cking way” and hung up and had not responded to further calls and texts from the newspaper, he said.
A line was subsequently inserted into Mr O’Toole’s article which stated Mr Kean, speaking to the Star, “denied any knowledge of the incident”. Mr Falkiner said he regarded that as a fair account of his discussion with Mr Kean.
Under cross-examination by Jim O’Callaghan SC, he disagreed the Star deliberately misrepresented what Mr Kean had said on the phone to Mr Falkiner.
The case continues on Tuesday.