Record libel award over Kenmare statement

 

A FORMER Kenmare Resources director has been awarded a record €10 million damages by a High Court jury after they found he was defamed by a press release issued by the company about an “incident” in Mozambique in which he sleepwalked naked to a female colleague’s bedroom.

The jury found the release wrongly meant Donal Kinsella had made inappropriate advances to the woman, company secretary Deirdre Corcoran, and awarded him €10 million against the company.

Outside court, Mr Kinsella (67) said he was “exhilarated and vindicated” by the jury’s verdict.

Mr Kinsella had sued Kenmare and its chairman Charles Carvill over the press release issued by the company on July 10th, 2007.

It stated the board was to seek Mr Kinsella’s resignation as chairman of the company’s audit committee arising out of “an incident” in which he sleepwalked to the room of Ms Corcoran during a trip to Kenmare’s Moma titanium mine in Mozambique on May 9th, 2007, where a board meeting was being held.

Mr Kinsella claimed that due to the release, he became an international “laughing stock” over sexual impropriety allegations of which he had earlier been exonerated by an independent internal inquiry sanctioned by Kenmare and conducted by a solicitor. The defendants had denied defamation.

Following just over three hours of deliberation, the jury of seven men and four women awarded Mr Kenmare €9 million in compensatory damages and €1 million for aggravated damages.

Bill Shipsey SC, for Kenmare, described the award as “off the Richter scale” and asked Mr Justice Eamon de Valera to put a stay on the award pending appeal to the Supreme Court. It was inconceivable the Supreme Court would not overturn an award of this size, Mr Shipsey said.

The judge said he would grant a stay providing €500,000 was paid out immediately to Mr Kinsella. He also adjourned the question of costs to next Wednesday.

In considering its verdict, the jury had to answer a number of questions. They unanimously found the release had stated or inferred Mr Kinsella had made inappropriate advances to Ms Corcoran. They also found publication of the release was intended to embarrass Mr Kinsella or put pressure on him in relation to his position in the company and that the defendants, or one or other of them, were “reckless” as to the contents of the release.

The jury disagreed as to whether the defendants, or one or other of them, knew or believed the contents of the release were false. Mr Justice de Valera said that given the jury’s answers to the other questions, the disagreement over that latter issue was not particularly relevant.

During the six-day hearing, the court heard Mr Kinsella had sleepwalked naked up to the door of Ms Corcoran’s bedroom three times during the night before being told to go back to bed by Kenmare managing director Michael Carvill.

Mr Kinsella, who was prone to sleepwalking, had been drinking earlier and was on medication and was not wearing pyjamas, the court heard.

While he had apologised to Ms Corcoran, he told the court he did not believe the incident justified his removal as chairman of the audit committee of which Ms Corcoran was also a member.

Ms Corcoran did not want to work with him on that committee as it would involve working with him on a one-to-one basis, the company said.