Ryanair defamation case heads for jury

Closing arguments in case where airline says pilot group inferred company misled market

The jury hearing Ryanair's action alleging defamation against three members of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) may begin considering their verdict on Wednesday.

Closing speeches on behalf of the sides have finished and the jury will hear Mr Justice Bernard Barton’s charge today after which they will retire either later on Wednesday or on Thursday to consider their verdict.

The airline is suing three members of the RPG – Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy. It claims it was defamed by a September 12th, 2013, email from the RPG headed: "Pilot update, what the markets are saying about Ryanair."

The airline says it falsely inferred Ryanair management had misled the market and facilitated insider dealing, among other things.

The defendants deny the claims.

In his address on behalf of the defendants, Paul O’Higgins SC said Ryanair’s reputation was not damaged by the update and the “real reason” it took the case was to “shut the beaks of anyone who might open them”.

None of the managers, who it was claimed were being accused of misleading the market, had put “one hair on their heads above the parapet” in terms of coming to court to vindicate their reputation. They were able to stay “on the other side of the ramparts safely protected by the whole monolith of Ryanair”, he said.

‘Life of persecution’

John Goss, the only one of the defendants who was a Ryanair pilot until he was dismissed after 30 years with the airline, had gone “through a life of persecution by Ryanair”, counsel said.

Thomas Hogan SC, for Ryanair, said this case was not about how the airline treated its pilots, its negotiating procedures or about safety. It was about a single publication on September 12th, 2013.

The defendants had sought to put Ryanair on trial but it was the defendants’ actions the jury had to consider, not Ryanair’s, he said.

The jury should look at what was their first impression when they saw the update, he said.

While Mr O’Higgins had described the meaning attributed by Ryanair as farcical, ludicrous and fantastically unlikely, it was not so fantastic when one looked at the pre-update communications between the group who drew up the update including a reference to insider dealing.

The update was, in words used in a communication from one of the RPG group, about “outcasting” and attacking management, counsel said.