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Court told Ryanair pilot email gave impression of manipulation

Airline claims email was untrue and defamatory

The pilot defendants deny defamation and say the words complained of do not mean what Ryanair says they do. Photograph: Getty

Ryanair’s chief financial officer has told a High Court jury an email at the centre of a defamation action gave the impression the airline was trying to manipulate the stock market.

This was something “we would not engage in at any time,” Neil Sorahan said.

The suggestion in the email from three Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) pilots that Ryanair had misled the market “could not be further from the truth”, he said.

Ryanair was well regarded in the market as having a reputation for financial prudence and for being very open with the market, he said.

This was reflected by the various announcements it makes to the market and has been something the airline worked very hard on ever since its initial public offering on the stock market in 1987, he said.

Mr Sorahan was giving evidence on the second day of Ryanair’s action against captains Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy, who founded the RPG.

Ryanair claims their email of September 12th, 2013, to 2,289 pilots was untrue and defamatory of the airline. The email was part of an ongoing RPG effort to trade unionise its pilots and had come following similar false attacks on its safety record, it also claims.

The defendants deny defamation and say the words complained of do not mean what Ryanair says. They claim the words also have the benefit of qualified privilege.

Sell-off

The email was headed “Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair” and stated the airline gave positive indications to investors the previous June which encouraged a share price increase followed up by a sell-off of shares by airline management.

Ryanair claims that, by publishing that incorrect statement, the defendants were saying, by innuendo or insinuation, the airline misled investors, knowingly facilitated insider dealing by management, was guilty of market manipulation and conspired with management to abuse the markets.

In reply to questions from Ryanair counsel Martin Hayden, Mr Sorahan said the suggestion the airline gave “positive indications” gave a false impression that it was manipulating numbers. “That is not something the company would engage in at any time and that is hugely important to us,” he said.

The market had to be able to trust a company because if it lost that, then the management team cannot be trusted, the share price will come under pressure and the company would face sanction possibly of a criminal nature. It was really important the market believed the information it gave and Ryanair prides itself on the quality of information it gives to the market, he said.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for the defendants, who said his clients accepted there was not the “remotest impropriety” by Ryanair management in this matter, cross examined Mr Sorahan about the airline’s own “punchy” public statements.

When counsel said those statements were “a little bit propagandist”, Mr Sorahan replied: “Your words not mine.”

Bizarre

Mr O’Higgins said Ryanair released one statement in which it criticised as bizarre and politically motivated a European Commission decision to allow British Airways buy British Midland while refusing to permit Ryanair buy Aer Lingus in 2013.

Mr Sorahan said: “It is our opinion and we believe it to be true.”

Asked did he accept it “forcefully and colourfully” expressed Ryanair’s view, Mr Sorahan said it was correct and the commission decision was “bizarre”.

The hearing resumes next week before a judge and jury.