O’Neill has track record in law courts
Former Celtic and Sunderland manager is ‘no stranger to defamation cases’
Over the past 10 years or so O’Neill has, in fact, been paid damages by a number of newspapers and other media organisations. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie
He is a former law student whose interest in murder trials is well known but Martin O’Neill has had other reasons to become familiar with the legal system down the years. The 61-year-old is, as the Press Gazette put it, “no stranger to defamation cases”.
Over the past 10 years or so O’Neill has, in fact, been paid damages by a number of newspapers and other media organisations with the Daily Record, Observer, BBC, Daily Mirror, Football 365 and Independent all having been obliged to issue apologies to the Irish man and hand over what were often described in court as “substantial” sums.
Two of the cases that have been widely reported relate to O’Neill’s time at Celtic and specifically involved claims that he had agreements with other clubs – Manchester United and Liverpool respectively – to become their manager.
In the first instance, in December 2001, the Observer accepted that its story saying that he had reached an agreement to succeed Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford was without foundation.
Three years later the Daily Record paid the price for running a similarly themed piece in which the manager was incorrectly said to be leaving Parkhead for Anfield.
His solicitor said the article “questioned his loyalty and commitment to Celtic”. Commenting on this second case the media law firm Bannatyne, Kirkwood France said that: “Those representing O’Neill against the Daily Record must have thought that Christmas had come early as they dusted down the old file and proceeded with their action this time round.”
Their article continued: “For some reason, sports journalists are under the mistaken belief that what appears in the back pages of newspapers can be differentiated from what appears in the news section. This simply is not the case.” O’Neill has continued to provide reminders of this.
Both the Independent and the BBC were successfully sued in relation to claims that his ownership of shares on the Proactive Sports Agency represented “a conflict of interests” with both accepting that he had never bought or sold players represented by the company.
Far more recently, O’Neill has received three apologies and payments from the BSkyB-owned website Football365 over claims relating to the sale of Gareth Barry and the supposed “tapping up” of Artur Boruc.
The publication of the latter came just 16 days after an apology in open court for the former although Football 365 then completed their incredible hat-trick in July 2008 by headlining a critical reader’s comment “Martin O’Neill is a total idiot”.
In March 2011 O’Neill launched an action for £200,000 against the Daily Mirror relating to its coverage of his time at and departure from Aston Villa. A whole string of offending articles were cited as well as one cartoon.
The final settlement was not revealed but the apology published in August concluded: “We now accept that Mr O’Neill had not lost the dressing room, there was no players’ revolt and no general celebration over Mr O’Neill’s departure.”