Denis O’Brien corrects his evidence in defamation case

Businessman seeking damages from ‘Sunday Business Post’ over series of 2015 articles

Denis O'Brien has told a High Court jury his spokesman contacted the Sunday Independent following an article it published in 2012 about borrowings of himself and others from Anglo Irish Bank.

In his continuing action alleging defamation in Sunday Business Post articles published in March 2015, Mr O'Brien, who remains under cross-examination, said on Friday he wanted to correct evidence given by him the previous day when asked about the Sunday Independent article.

That article was written by journalists Tom Lyons and Nick Webb and published in the Sunday Independent in April 2012 with a strapline, Anglo's Top 13 Buccaneer Borrowers.

Mr O’Brien had given evidence on Thursday to the effect he believed he took no action over that.


On Friday, he told Michael McDowell SC, for the SBP, he had checked that matter overnight and wanted to correct the record.

After long correspondence between his spokesman James Morrissey and the Sunday Independent, he believed he ultimately got an apology from group managing editor Michael Denieffe over the coverage, he said.

After further exchanges with Mr McDowell, Paul O’Higgins SC, for Mr O’Brien, said he wanted to raise an issue in the absence of the jury.

Legal discussions ensued and when the jury returned to court about 3pm, Mr Justice Bernard Barton said he was sending them away to Tuesday.

Holidays planned

Noting one juror has a holiday planned for next weekend, he said that juror would be able to go on holiday even if the case, which was fixed for six days, has not concluded by Friday next.

Friday was the fourth day of Mr O'Brien's action against Post Publications Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Business Post , in which he is seeking substantial damages over the articles, run over six pages.

Their focus was what the newspaper referred to as a “secret” report concerning exposure in 2008 of Ireland’s banks, compiled by Price WaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The report was provided to the government in November 2008 and obtained in 2015 by the newspaper but destroyed shortly after publication of the articles to protect the source who provided it.

The SBP articles, written by journalists Tom Lyons, Gavin Sheridan and others, include a front page article headlined "22 men and €26 billion" with a subheading: "The secret report that convinced Cowen the banks weren't bust."

Mr O'Brien claims the various articles wrongly meant he was among 22 borrowers identified with the downfall of Ireland and the bankruptcy of its banking system and injured his reputation.

The defendant denies defamation, denies the words complained of mean what Mr O’Brien says and denies malicious publication. It has also pleaded “fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest”.

Checked matter

On Friday, Mr O’Brien said he did not have with him in court the correspondence between Mr Morrissey and the Sunday Independent concerning the 2012 article, apart from an email from Mr Morrissey to somebody in the Sunday Independent.

He said he was shocked by the Sunday Independent article but there were articles “every week at that time” in that newspaper and when he gave the answer he had on Thursday, he believed it to be true but had checked the matter overnight.

Mr McDowell said the court was now in an unsatisfactory position where Mr O’Brien had said he read an article that shocked him and was now saying there was long correspondence with the Sunday Independent and he ultimately got an apology.

Mr McDowell asked Mr O’Brien whether the correspondence between Mr Morrissey and the Sunday Independent was before or after the Sunday Business Post articles.

Mr O’Brien said Mr Morrissey had told him overnight there was an apology and he took him at his word.

At that stage, Mr O’Higgins asked that the jury go out.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times