Charity founder fails to silence newspaper

 

A FOUNDER of a Third World charity has lost a High Court bid to stop a newspaper publishing an article alleging that he made inappropriate sexual advances to males in Kenya.

Michael Meegan, who helped set up the International Community for Relief of Starvation and Suffering (Icross), has strongly denied the Irish Mail on Sundayclaims.

Mr Meegan had asked the High Court for an injunction preventing the newspaper publishing any material alleging he sexually assaulted or abused anybody or engaged in sexual conduct or any other form of inappropriate behaviour with anyone under the age of 18.

He also sought an order prohibiting the paper from breaching his right to privacy over his sexuality.

He argued that publication of the allegations would damage his role as a charity worker, particularly given attitudes in Kenya towards homosexuality. He has also claimed the newspaper’s claims included references to a man who had withdrawn allegations against him.

The injunction application was the first made under the Defamation Act, 2009. Mr Meegan’s lawyers argued that the Act provides that publication may be stopped on grounds there was no reasonable defence to any potential libel action which might arise out of the proposed article. Yesterday, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, refused the injunction after finding the newspaper had shown a reasonable basis for its claim it may succeed at the trial of any libel action. The judge also said there was no suggestion the Irish Mail on Sunday was not a “mark” for damages should any libel action succeed.

He added that he was also taking into account an undertaking from the newspaper’s editor, Sebastian Hamilton, that certain allegations would not now be made in the article.

The judge refused a stay on his order pending appeal to the Supreme Court and also ordered Mr Meegan to pay the costs of the High Court proceedings. Earlier yesterday, the court was told the allegations against Mr Meegan, who holds a British passport, came from six Kenyan males who worked with or were involved with Mr Meegan in the Icross charity.

Morgan Shelley, for Mr Meegan, said some of the allegations had been withdrawn while others were no more than claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour. They dated back to 1986 and did not involve anyone under 18, counsel said. One of the people who made the allegations had been offered 15,000 Kenya shillings (€144), while another was offered KS250,000 (€2,300) by the newspaper, counsel said. The Kenyan authorities had launched an investigation into the matter under that country’s criminal libel laws, counsel said.

Mr Meegan would be put in a very difficult position if the allegations proved false according to the criminal standard of proof, counsel said.

Because damages from a libel action could not adequately compensate Mr Meegan, this should weigh heavily on the court in its decision on whether to grant an injunction, counsel said.

Michael Cush SC, for the Irish Mail on Sunday, said that apart from the six statements of the alleged victims, the newspaper also had corroborating statements from a number of other people, including a former director who said he found the allegations credible and a former Irish Icross worker who said he had also been subjected to a sexual advance by Mr Meegan.

The paper had met the standard required as to whether the allegations complained of were reasonably credible, counsel said.

On Mr Meegan’s right to privacy, counsel said he had a profile on a gay dating website called “Gaydar” – although this is denied by Mr Meegan.