Man consents to orders over sale of Jackie Kennedy letters

Expert Owen Felix O’Neill hands back copies of correspondence between former US first lady and Irish priest

A letter written to Jackie Kennedy by Father Leonard. Photograph: Simon Carswell/The Irish Times

A letter written to Jackie Kennedy by Father Leonard. Photograph: Simon Carswell/The Irish Times

Thu, May 29, 2014, 14:55

An expert on rare books has consented to permanent orders restraining him representing himself as the owner or seller of letters between former US first Lady Jackie Kennedy and an Irish priest, or passing on any copies or extracts from them to third parties.

Copies made by Owen Felix O’Neill of the letters, which were handed into the Commercial Court earlier this month, were given back today to solicitors for Sheppard’s auctioneers for return to the Vincentian Order at All Hallows College in Dublin.

Mr O’Neill, who has denied taking any unauthorised actions concerning the letters, consented to various permanent injunctions being made against him.

In those circumstances, Mr Justice Peter Kelly agreed to an application by Maurice Collins SC, for Sheppard’s to strike out its proceedings initiated earlier this month against Mr O’Neill.

Mr Collins said, in response to a request from All Hallows College, the auction of the letters scheduled for June 10th would not take place and his client had returned the originals of the letters as requested by the college.

The copies made by Mr O’Neill of the letters, which had been kept in a locked safe in the central office of the Four Courts, would also be returned, he said.

In response to concerns by Philip Sheppard about some “ambiguities” in an affidavit by Mr O’Neill concerning the letters, counsel said Sara Moorhead SC, for Mr O’Neill, had confirmed Mr O’Neill had irretrievably erased and irreversibly destroyed all electronic copies of the letters. Ms Moorehead confirmed that was the case.

Mr Justice Kelly said he would make permanent the orders initially granted on May 15th and continued on May 19th last restraining Mr O’Neill pasing on any copies of extracts of the letters or holding himself out as their owner or seller.

Mr O’Neill in an affidavit denied he did anything unauthorised in relation to the letters and denied he had breached any agreement with All Hallows College.

The application for the injunctions was never necessary, he said.

In his affidavit, Philip Sheppard denied those claims and also denied various allegations by Mr O’Neill concerning how Sheppard’s handled matters concerning the letters.

MJ Fine Art Ltd, trading as Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, of Durrow, Co Laois, had initiated proceedings earlier this month against Mr O’Neill, with an address in Cahir, Co Tipperary.

The case concerned correspondence between Jackie Kennedy and Fr Joseph Leonard – a Vincentian priest who lived at All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin – extending from 1950 to 1964.

The letters were “effectively the autobiography” of Jackie Kennedy and there was “enormous interest” in them worldwide, Philip Sheppard told the court.