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Enoch Burke’s defamation case is yet another legal loss for the imprisoned teacher

Evangelical Christian was not defamed by article that incorrectly stated he was moved cell for his safety because he was ‘annoying’

Other High Court judges have repeatedly made it clear to Enoch Burke that he can secure his freedom by purging his contempt. Photograph: Collins Courts

The general public may well have discovered before Enoch Burke that the High Court rejected his defamation claim against the publisher of the Sunday Independent.

In Mountjoy Prison, inmates generally learn about the outside world during limited phone calls or visits from family or, as Mr Burke told the court, from television news.

The German and history teacher says he is highly regarded among fellow residents of the jail, where he has now spent 388 days for breaching a court order requiring him to stay away from a Co Westmeath secondary school where he was previously employed.

In a written ruling on Thursday, a High Court judge held that the evangelical Christian was not defamed by an October 2022 article that incorrectly stated he was moved cell for his safety because he was “annoying” other prisoners by repeatedly expressing his religious beliefs.


Mr Justice Rory Mulcahy said it was “unfortunate” that the story contained untrue statements, but a lack of truth is not enough to prove defamation or to secure a damages award. Reputational damage must occur.

Enoch Burke loses defamation claim against Sunday Independent publisherOpens in new window ]

Indeed, the Mediahuis defendants, as publishers of the newspaper, did not argue that the disputed paragraphs were true. Rather, they contended this was a fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest and that Mr Burke was not and could not be defamed by the words printed.

It was Mr Burke’s status as a contemnor – by then well known to any reasonable member of society – that the judge said “wholly undermines” his claim of reputational damage by the article.

The suggestion that he severely annoyed fellow prisoners by expressing his religious belief is but a “whisper in the hurricane of noise” created by his earlier refusal to comply with a court order and imprisonment for contempt, said Mr Justice Mulcahy.

Other judges of the High Court have repeatedly made it clear to Mr Burke that he can secure his freedom by purging his contempt, which involves swearing to the court that he will not attend at the school.

He has refused to do this, arguing such a move would betray his religious beliefs. He has never appealed the order committing him to prison.

His living situation is due to be reviewed by the High Court’s Mr Justice Mark Sanfey on Friday. Most secondary school students have been on their summer holidays for the past fortnight.

He was previously released without purging his contempt before Christmas 2022 but he resumed attendance at the school when the term opened in January 2023. The court directed an imposition of €700 fines for each day he showed up. He was jailed again, on the application of the school, on September 8th over his continued attendance.

Ahead of the last Easter holidays the court offered him temporary release to reflect on his position, but Mr Justice Sanfey said he had “no option” but to return Mr Burke to prison as his actions in the court suggested he wanted to remain there.

Adding this week’s decision to the tally, Mr Burke has now been the subject of more than 20 judgments in the High Court and Court of Appeal. The latest ruling includes a provisional indication that he will be made liable to pay Mediahuis’s hefty legal costs.

It may be somewhat of a help, then, that he has continued to receive his teacher’s salary pending the hearing of his appeal against his dismissal from Wilson’s Hospital School.