Judge grants injunction over Jackie Kennedy letters

High Court restrains rare books expert from representing himself as owner of valuable cache

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wirh Fr Joseph Leonard: the archive of her correspondence with the priest will be sold at auction next month. Photograph Sheppard’s Irish Auction House.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wirh Fr Joseph Leonard: the archive of her correspondence with the priest will be sold at auction next month. Photograph Sheppard’s Irish Auction House.

Thu, May 15, 2014, 20:00

A dispute has arisen over the letters written to an Irish priest by the late Jackie Kennedy, wife of assassinated US President John F. Kennedy, after details of them were published earlier this week.

A High Court judge has granted temporary injunctions restraining an expert on rare books representing himself as the owner of the valuable cache of letters written by Ms Kennedy. The letters are due to be auctioned in Ireland next month.

Owen Felix O’Neill, with an address in Cahir, Co Tipperary, may have taken photos of some of the letters without permission of their owners or seller and provided those photos to a US newspaper, it was also alleged.

Mr O’Neill appeared to have been “miffed” at not being mentioned in connection with the discovery when articles were published concerning the letters, which extend from 1950-1964, in The Irish Times earlier this week, Mr Justice Peter Kelly was told.

Details of some of the letters, written before and after Mrs Kennedy became first lady of the United States, have been published in The Irish Times.

The archive of her 14-year-long correspondence with Fr Joseph Leonard – a Vincentian priest who lived in All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin – will be sold at an auction on June 10th.

Mr O’Neill — who was present at All Hallows College in Dublin when the existence of the letters was first disclosed to Sheppard’s auctioneers — would be entitled to commission in relation to the sale of the letters, the judge noted. When he realised they were likely to attract substantial amounts, it seemed he became disenchanted with the terms of that commission, the judge added.

The court was told Mr O’Neill walked out of a meeting with Philip Sheppard and Michael Sheppard earlier this week after making “strange comments”, the judge said. Mr O’Neill’s alleged assertion he was going to “get the letters sold” appeared to be a “ridiculous” claim when the letters were not his to sell, the judge added.

He granted additional orders restraining Mr O’Neill publishing any of the letters or any extracts or holding himself out as having the authority to negotiate their sale or publication.

Those orders were sought by Maurice Collins SC, for Sheppard’s, on the basis of concerns Mr O’Neill may have photographed some of the letters and may have been behind the publication of some of the letters by the Boston Globe this week.

The interim orders, returnable to Monday next, were granted this afternoon by Mr Justice Kelly who directed no details of the making of them could be published before 8pm after concerns were expressed Mr O’Neill might be alerted by media reports to the orders being made before they could be served on him.

MJ Fine Art Ltd, trading as Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, of Durrow, Co Laois, sought those orders, plus another order restraining Mr O’Neill passing on any confidential information or trade secrets of the firm, as part of intended proceedings where the firm is also seeking damages against Mr O’Neill.

The court was told Mr O’Neill had been a client of the firm for some years and last December agreed to act as a consultant to it concerning rare books for which he was paid expenses and commission representing 3 per cent of the “hammer price”.