Ryanair denies accusing pilot of ‘thought crime’
Pilot group members deny Ryanair’s claim 2013 email to other pilots was defamatory
Ryanair’s human resources chief has denied at the High Court the airline was accusing a pilot of “thought crime” as a result of an interview given by the pilot to a Belgian national newspaper.
Darrell Hughes was undergoing a third day of cross-examination in the airline’s case against the pilot, John Goss, and two other pilots, Evert Van Zwol and Ted Murphy.
The three, founding members of the Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG), deny Ryanair’s claim that a 2013 email to other pilots was defamatory because it inferred, among other things, that the airline had misled investors.
On Wednesday, Paul O’Higgins SC, for the three, asked Mr Hughes about Ryanair’s response to an interview Mr Goss gave to Belgium’s La Libre newspaper in 2013 in which Mr Goss expressed concerns about the airline’s work practices. Ryanair had threatened Mr Goss with disciplinary action if he failed to clarify questions it put to him about his attitude to the airline’s safety record arising out of the interview.
Mr O’Higgins said what Mr Goss said in the article was clear but Ryanair’s demand for clarification was like something out of George Orwell’s novel 1984, specifically the notion of “thought crime”. Mr Hughes disagreed and said the article was “prima facie evidence” from an experienced pilot who knew Ryanair has an “excellent” safety record.
It was perfectly legitimate to ask for clarification about what was said in the article, he said. He said it took four letters and six weeks before Mr Goss confirmed he did not have any issue with Ryanair safety. Mr Hughes disagreed with what he described as counsel’s “league table” characterisation of Ryanair’s system for encouraging individual pilots to use fuel efficiently.
He agreed pilots who used more fuel than others were sent reminders of their duty to work within certain parameters. Mr Hughes said he was aware of Spanish and Irish aviation authorities’ investigations into an incident in Spain in 2012 after three Ryanair aircraft had to issue mayday emergency fuel landings and which gave rise to concerns about the airline’s practice of carrying minimum fuel levels.
Mr Hughes said Ryanair had been exonerated by the aviation authorities, which found the airline was operating well within the law. Government departments in Spain and Ireland issued a statement that Ryanair safety was on a par with the safest airlines in Europe, the court was told.
Asked had Ryanair threatened Ghent University with legal action over a survey of 6,000 pilots, Mr Hughes said he didn’t think they threatened legal action. “We pointed out it was being hijacked by the RPG,” he said.
The survey was “wholly unscientific” and the responses to the survey could have come from anybody, he said. He disagreed Ryanair got involved in organising elections for its own “employee representative committees” (ERCs) other than to provide logistical support.
He agreed the company website was used to tell employees the procedures for voting in 2008. That was also the year John Goss put his name forward for ERC election and the elections were later cancelled, the court heard. Mr Hughes agreed Mr Goss was suspended for two weeks after he circulated non-company material using office “pigeon holes”.
He also agreed the material had something to do with the ERC elections. He was not aware of the details of an English court case in 2012 in which former Ryanair pilot Robertus Van Boekel was sued by the main recruitment agency providing pilots on contract for Ryanair, Brookfield Aviation International. Brookfield sued for £5,000 after Mr Van Boekel terminated his contract and this was after he was also threatened with bankruptcy proceedings through a debt-collection service.
The judge in the case found the £5,000 was an unenforceable penalty and also said Brookfield’s commercial director Declan Dooney was untruthful. Mr O’Higgins asked Mr Hughes whether he thought: “‘That doesn’t look good and I better have a word with Mr Dooney about the fact that he was lying.’” Mr Hughes said he had not read the full judgment but he considered it to be a matter between Brookfield and the pilot.
The case continues.