Consumer laws breached by lookalike 'Sunday Tribune'


THE PUBLISHER of the Irish Mail on Sundayhas been found to have breached consumer protection laws by publishing 26,000 Sunday Tribunelookalike editions.

Associated Newspapers (Ireland), owners of the Irish Mail on Sunday, were prosecuted by the National Consumer Agency at the Dublin District Court for contravening consumer protection legislation. The newspaper group had pleaded not guilty to six charges.

The watchdog had brought the case against the newspaper group after complaints by readers who bought the “special edition” Irish Mail on Sunday, on February 6th last thinking they had bought the Sunday Tribune, days after it went into receivership.

Judge Conal Gibbons said yesterday he had found four of the charges against Associated Newspapers (Ireland) proven. He noted the evidence from witnesses who bought the edition thinking it was the Sunday Tribuneand who had felt “duped” and “cheated”.

He also noted evidence from retailers and shop employees who had thought they had been supplied with editions of the Sunday Tribune.

He accepted submissions from counsel for Associated Newspapers (Ireland), Neil Steen, that his client was a good corporate citizen. However, Judge Gibbons rejected claims that it was a “trivial” matter and he commended the work of the consumer agency in its handling of the case.

Judge Gibbons said he believed the Irish Mail on Sundaydid not deliberately try to deceive consumers by publishing the misleading special edition.

He also accepted that Associated Newspapers (Ireland)’s managing director Paul Henderson and Irish Mail on Sundayeditor Sebastian Hamilton, whom he described as men “with ink in their veins”, did not intend for newspaper readers to be deceived.

Judge Gibbons said he understood the newspaper industry faced problems from declining sales and readers of a paper which had been shut down did not necessarily migrate to another title.

However, he described the decision to run the special edition as an “overzealous” marketing exercise to attract former Sunday Tribunereaders.

Judge Gibbons applied the Probation Act, sparing the company a criminal conviction, on the basis that it paid the National Consumer Agency’s legal costs and expenses, and donated €15,000 to charity within four weeks. Given the nature of the case, he said, the charity should be nominated by the National Union of Journalists, with the view that the money would go to a benevolent fund for journalists.

A receiver was appointed to the loss-making Sunday Tribuneon February 1st last year; two days later a decision was made not to bring out a final edition on February 6th.

The Irish Mail on Sundaythen distributed 26,000 “special editions” to shops on the east coast of which about 9,000 copies were sold. They featured a wraparound cover with a heading saying “a special edition designed for readers of the Sunday Tribune”.

The editor of the defunct paper Nóirín Hegarty told the court that the edition looked like the Sunday Tribuneand had a similar masthead, fonts and colours.