An Irish football coach cannot bring defamation proceedings over a newspaper report of the French court hearing at which he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for smuggling merchandise dangerous to public health, the High Court ruled.
Darren Lee Proudfoot claims a reference in the report in the Irish Daily Mirror in January 2018 that he was "a known dealer and was under surveillance in his home country" was completely false and never said in the French court. The newspaper denies his claims and denies the article was defamatory.
He needed permission of the High Court to bring a case against the newspaper publishers, Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) because he had not done so inside a one year deadline for bringing defamation actions.
Today, Mr Justice Anthony Barr ruled that to allow Mr Proudfoot to defeat MGN's entitlement to rely on the one-year limitation period would not be acting in the interests of justice. He dismissed his application to extend the time and awarded costs against him.
Mr Proudfoot, who is originally from Dublin, was driving a hire car in January 2018 from his apartment in Alicante, Spain, with a friend when they were stopped by customs officials near Avignon, France, in January 2018. The car contained thousands of packets of Zoplicone, a psychotropic drug used to treat sleep disorders, which the friend said he had lawfully bought in Spain.
Both men were arrested. Mr Proudfoot shortly afterwards pleaded guilty in Nimes Criminal Court to smuggling merchandise dangerous to public health without documentary evidence. He was sentenced to 18 months and fined.
He eventually served six-and-a-half months and was released in August 2018.
Around the time he was sentenced, the Irish Daily Mirror carried a report of the court hearing in which the "known dealer" and "under surveillance" reference was made.
He claimed he learned of the report while in prison but could do nothing about it there. After his return following his release in August, he contacted a number of solicitors. The first required a retainer fee he could not afford.
A second solicitor took instructions but by January or February he said he was unwilling to act.
By the time he got his current solicitor, the one-year deadline had passed and an application was then made to the High Court to extend time for bringing the case.
Mr Justice Barr said where a person instructs a solicitor well within the one-year limit, that cannot deprive a defendant of the benefit of that limitation period by pleading negligence caused by the solicitor in failing to issue the proceedings in time.
There was no good reason why the alleged inaction of the second solicitor should deprive MGN of legitimate litigious advantage gained by the fact the time limit was allowed expire, he said.
He was not satisfied the prejudice which would be suffered by Mr Proudfoot by not getting an extension would significantly outweigh the prejudice to MGN.
If his assertions in relation to the second solicitor are correct, "then he will have a good action in negligence against his former solicitor".