Ryanair Pilot Group member tells court of ‘war against us’

Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Murphy sued over email to pilots on behalf of the RPG

Ryanair started "a war" against three members of a pilots group after publication of an email which the airline alleges falsely inferred it misled the market, the High Court was told.

Evert Van Zwol, one of three Ryanair Pilot Group (RPG) founders being sued for defamation, said once the airline brought its defamation proceedings, he believed Ryanair “was starting a war against us”.

Consequently, the group had to be “even more careful” about what it published, he said.

Capt Van Zwol, along with two other RPG founders John Goss and Ted Murphy, are being sued over a September 2013 email issued to pilots on behalf of the RPG.

The three deny the email, headed “Pilot Update: what the markets are saying about Ryanair”, was defamatory.

During his second day of cross-examination, Capt Van Zwol was asked by Martin Hayden SC, for Ryanair, why the RPG did not send out updates containing “good news” about Ryanair given the aim of the September 2013 email was to keep pilots abreast of information about Ryanair.

‘Outcast management’

Capt Van Zwol said, once Ryanair initiated this legal action, shortly after the email was published, the RPG knew it had to be more careful. Ryanair was partly successful in ensuring that by bringing these proceedings, he said.

He denied counsel’s suggestion the intention of the update was to “outcast management in the eyes of pilots”.

“My intention was to only publish the facts.”

Asked why the RPG did not send out more updates about other Ryanair financial matters, such as the fact it got €400 million for the sale of its shares in Aer Lingus, he said, once the legal proceedings started, the "game" had changed.

“We were being sued for telling the plain facts about Ryanair and we had become more careful than we had been before”.

He said it was unfortunate they had to become more careful because he would have wished for a “more open atmosphere” in which Ryanair “would give us more space to do the job we were elected to do”.

Mr Hayden put to him: “You brought up a potential breach of (Ryanair’s) reporting obligations to the market for the very simple reason that you wanted to add to this update a further indictment of management”.

That was not so, replied Capt Van Zwol. If there was any hard evidence of this, he would have agreed it go into the update but the update was done with the inputs of a number of people and their thoughts which generally means an improved end result, he said.

Share price

Capt Van Zwol, who last week accepted there was an error in the update in relation to the date for the sale of Ryanair shares by management figures, said the airline’s share price at the time the update was published was checked by one of the group of people contributing to compiling the update. He was satisfied it was correct.

While most updates were sent directly by email to pilots, he had suggested they be posted on Facebook, but this idea was not accepted by others in the group.

He disagreed the setting up of a Dutch legal entity, known as a “stichting”, to act for the RPG, was done so they could also publish on Facebook and then hide behind that vehicle should they be sued. He had never thought the stichting was a vehicle he could hide behind, “that would have been very foolish of me”, he said.

The case continues.