O'Brien awarded €150k in Daily Mail defamation case
Denis O'Brien has claimed the Daily Mail article published shortly after an earthquake in Haiti, accused him of being a hypocrite and motivated by self-interest over his efforts to assist the relief of Haiti. Photograph: Collins Courts
Businessman Denis O’Brien has been awarded damages of €150,000 against The Irish Daily Mail after the paper published an article that accused him of being a hypocrite.
A jury of six men and six women found the article was defamatory and he was entitled to damages. Though they agreed it was the author’s honest opinion, they said it was not based on fact and was not in the public interest.
It was the first time the defence of honest opinion has been used in a defamation case in Ireland.It was introduced as part of the Defamation Act 2009.
Speaking outside the court Mr O'Brien said he was "delighted" with the verdict. “I think everyone has freedom of expression, that’s part of our democracy. I think everybody also has the right to their good name and reputation," he said.
Solicitor for Associated Newspapers Michael Kealey said the paper was "extremely disappointed" at the outcome.
Earlier today the High Court was told that the defamation case was about the “simple truth” of “the right to express an opinion”.
Addressing the jury in closing submissions on the seventh day of the case, Oisín Quinn SC for the paper, said the right to express opinion was “vital to society”.
“We want you to stand up for the right of someone to express his view,” he said. He said the jurors did not have to agree with what journalist Paul Drury said in the article, they just had to agree that “he had a right to say it”.
Mr O’Brien has claimed Mr Drury’s article, published on January 22nd, 2010 shortly after an earthquake in Haiti, accused him of being a hypocrite and motivated by self-interest over his efforts to assist the relief of Haiti, where his telecommunications company Digicel has substantial interests. He has accused Associated Newspapers, two editors and Mr Drury of defamation. The allegations have been denied.
Mr Quinn highlighted “10 facts” contained in the article that were “right and true” and on which Mr Drury based his opinion. He said the article was “sarcastic, cynical, with some attempt at humour”, but was obviously an opinion piece. It had drawn attention to what Mr O’Brien was doing on RTÉ.
Mr Quinn also drew attention to Mr O’Brien’s wealth and said people had to listen to politicians, ministers and people who run banks every day. He asked the jury if they thought public figures must be taken “at face value” or could someone "honestly question what they see" and "give their opinion".
“Wouldn’t it be a sorry day if in Ireland you couldn’t do that?” he asked.
Paul O’Higgins SC, for Mr O’Brien, said much emphasis had been placed on the value of comment and “big people being brought to book”, but no comment was useful if it couldn’t be trusted. He also said while Mr O’Brien could afford to take the defamation case, most of the people hurt and damaged by newspapers could not. He also suggested that when someone goes to the Press Council with a complaint the newspapers might “laugh all the way to the bank”.
Mr O'Higgins said “no research of any kind” had been done before the article was published or since. The “facts” on which the article was based were not true, Mr O’Higgins said, and therefore the defence of “honest opinion” must fail.