A High Court jury will begin considering its verdict tomorrow in solicitor Gerald Kean’s action alleging he was defamed in an article concerning a visit by officers of the Criminal Assets Bureau to his Dublin offices.
The jury of seven men and five women heard closing addresses today and will be instructed in the law by Mr Justice Bernard Barton tomorrow before going out to consider their decision.
In his action against independent Star Ltd, Mr Kean alleges he was defamed in an article published in the Irish Daily Star on March 11, 2016, headlined ‘Kean Caught Up in CAB probe’.
The article concerned a visit by two CAB officers to Mr Kean’s offices at Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin, on March 9, 2016 with a search warrant and stated CAB had obtained warrants concerning 12 premises and six businesses, including Mr Kean’s, as part of its investigation into the Kinahan gang’s assets.
A CAB officer told the jury the purpose of the visit to Mr Kean’s office was to get a conveyancing file relating to the purchase in 2015 of a house at Kildare Road, Crumlin, by a client of the firm, Sean McGovern, who was linked to the Kinahan gang.
The file was provided to the officers by an assistant solicitor in Mr Kean’s office who handled the conveyance and CAB later got court orders declaring the Crumlin property was purchased with the proceeds of crime, the jury heard.
Among various claims, Mr Kean claims the article wrongly meant he was suspected by CAB of being linked to gangland crime and says he is entitled to damages.
The newspaper denies defamation and has also pleaded the article was published in the course of, or for the purpose of, a discussion of a subject of public interest for the public benefit and the manner and extent of publication was no more than was “reasonably sufficient”.
In closing arguments today, Eoin McCullough SC said a reasonable reader reading the entire article would see the factual content is “simply inconsistent” with what Mr Kean alleges.
An “outstanding” feature of the case was that the content of the article, written by the newspaper’s Crime Correspondent Michael O’Toole, was “accurate in all respects”.
Mr Kean may not like the article but it is an important part of democracy that newspapers can publish the truth, he said.
If the jury found the article contained some or all of the meanings alleged by Mr Kean, they should go on to find it was published for discussion on a matter of public interest, the activities of the Kinahan crime gang and the efforts of gardai and CAB to combat those, he said.
Mr Kean could have pursued other avenues concerning the article but had not, he said. If the jury concluded Mr Kean was entitled to damages, those should be “very small” as there was no evidence he had been damaged, counsel submitted.
Paul O’Higgins SC, for Mr Kean, said the solicitor regarded the article as a “dig of a royal kind” at him which was “not true”.
It concerned a matter of the “utmost triviality” that the newspaper was trying to “dress up as some kind of public interest crusade” when there was no public interest involved.
While various “bald statements” in the article were true, including that CAB “called” to Mr Kean’s office, the jury had to look at the entire article, including its layout.
The only purpose of the CAB visit was to get the relevant document so CAB could “chase the money” and there was not the remotest suspicion about Mr Kean, he said.
Mr Kean’s side of the story got “miniscule” treatment and a statement in the article that he had “denied any knowledge of the incident” was not accurate because what he had denied was there was a “raid” on his office. Mr Kean was made to look like a “liar” who was “denying the undeniable”, he said.
A “yawning void” in the case was the jury had not heard from the editor of the newspaper, Des Gibson, “with whom the buck stops”, he added.
For all those reasons, Mr Kean is entitled to damages, counsel said.