Claim for defamation over Dylan Thomas photographs thrown out

Welsh copyright expert loses case against widow over letter

A former BBC journalist's €75,000 defamation claim against a 92-year-old widow, from whom he bought the copyright of eight pictures of Dylan Thomas, has been thrown out by a judge.

President of the Circuit Court Mr Justice Raymond Groarke said he had to wonder at the inequality of arms between Haydn Price, a Welsh copyright expert living in Co Wicklow, and Gwen Watkins during negotiations with her for his acquiring the copyright.

Mrs Watkins, lives at Mumbles Road, Swansea, and her late husband poet Vernon Watkins had taken the photographs of the Welsh poet, the copyright of which she sold to Mr Price for €1,000.

Mr Price told the Circuit Civil Court he had brought the defamation claim in the Irish court because he was now an Irish resident living at Oak Cottage, Kiltegan, Co Wicklow.

The court had been told by Mark Harty SC, counsel for Mrs Watkins, that Mr Price, as director of a company to which he had assigned the copyright, had given undertakings to the English High Court not to issue any proceedings in the UK.

Judge Groarke said that when he asked Mr Price why he had not sued in Wales, he had not told the court about the undertakings to the High Court in England.

“The truth has come out and let me be straight, I don’t believe you one bit,” Judge Groarke told Mr Price.

Mr Harty, who appeared with solicitor Kathryn Ward, was awarded costs against Mr Price and also against his company, Pablo Star Limited, a second defendant which had also sued Mrs Watkins for defamation and whose claim was struck out for lack of any proper representation.

Mr Price broke down in tears while giving evidence about a letter written by Mrs Watkins to a publishing friend in America in which she referred to “that bad man Haydn Price whose actions have blackened my otherwise serene old age.”

In the letter opened to the court she had stated Mr Price “had plotted with someone I had thought a friend to visit my house. He stayed for 7 hours. I could not get him to leave…..I was apprehensive because I sensed that he was a violent and unstable man and I was alone in the house with him. He got such a bad name that he eventually left the UK.”

Mr Price, who said he had a Masters in Copyright Law, denied that anything in her letter was true and outlined to the court a file of e-mails he and Mrs Watkins had exchanged which, he said, proved their relationship was friendly and above board.

He said that at one meeting he had advised Mrs Watkins to consult members of her family, if she felt it necessary, and she had spoken to her son and literary executor about selling the copyright. Mrs Watkins, who was 88 at the time and a widow of 44 years, was an author of some books and a very learned woman, the court heard.

Judge Groarke said Mr Price had not given the court any proof that Mrs Watkins’ letter had been published to anyone and dismissed his claim.