Denis O’Brien says ‘Sunday Business Post’ articles a ‘hatchet job’

Businessman tells High Court interest in his banking affairs was ‘verging on voyeurism’

Businessman Denis O Brien. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Businessman Denis O Brien. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

Denis O’Brien has told a High Court jury that articles in the Sunday Business Post which named him as one of the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008 were a “hatchet job page by page”.

He said being called a “buccaneer” borrower by the Sunday Independent in April 2012 was not derogatory but he objected to being described as part of a “gang” of 22 borrowers in the Sunday Business Post articles of March 15th, 2015.

Michael McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, said the dictionary definition of a buccaneer is a pirate usually operating in the Caribbean. He asked Mr O’Brien was he seriously saying it was “a complimentary term”.

Mr O’Brien said buccaneer is not a derogatory term but a gang is.

When counsel said a biography of Mr O’Brien by Siobhán Creaton referred to Mr O’Brien as one of a gang and again put to him that gang is not a derogatory term, the businessman said he had not read that book or co-operated with the author.

Cross-examination of Mr O’Brien has concluded in his action alleging defamation in the Sunday Business Post articles.

Destroyed

Their focus was a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) given to the government in November 2008 concerning the exposure of Ireland’s banks. The report was obtained in 2015 by the newspaper but destroyed shortly afterwards to protect the source.

Written by journalists Tom Lyons, Gavin Sheridan and others, the articles included a front page story 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 articles wrongly meant he was among a “gang” of 22 borrowers linked to bankrupting Ireland’s banking system and injured his reputation. The defence denies the words mean what Mr O’Brien alleges, denies defamation or malicious publication and has pleaded “fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest”.

Mr O’Brien was asked about earlier evidence from him concerning the April 2012 Sunday Independent article written by Mr Lyons and Nick Webb and published with a strapline ‘Anglo’s Top 13 Buccaneer Borrowers’.

Mr O’Brien said last week, following lengthy correspondence between his spokesman James Morrissey and the newspaper, he believed he got an apology from Independent group managing editor Michael Denieffe over “coverage”.

On Tuesday, he said what he had said last week was that he was not entirely sure about that matter and would check. Having done so, he said there was an apology but it had “nothing to do” with the April 2012 article.

Mr O’Brien was also asked about other evidence last week of his belief that he had received a letter from Conor Killeen, a former owner of the Sunday Business Post, stating that Mr Killeen had some control over editorial content.

Mr O’Brien said he had been unable to locate such a letter but did remember one. When Mr McDowell suggested there was “no such letter”, Mr O’Brien said: “I entirely disagree”.

Calculated

He also rejected a suggestion that his evidence last Thursday was calculated to discredit Mr Lyons and the Sunday Business Post when compared with the Sunday Independent. He said the difference between the articles was “chalk and cheese” and the Sunday Independent did not describe him as part of a gang that “wrecked the country”.

Mr O’Brien was also asked about an email sent by Mr Lyons to Mr Morrissey on before the Sunday Independent appeared, in which Mr Lyons asked questions concerning Mr O’Brien’s banking affairs with IBRC and the financial position of his company Digicel. Mr O’Brien said he told Mr Morrissey to inform Mr Lyons there would be no comment.

When counsel put to Mr O’Brien that he had wrongly accused Mr Lyons of having low standards when Mr Lyons had sought responses from him, Mr O’Brien said it was “verging on voyeurism” to try and find out details of his banking affairs.

“I have a right to privacy,” he said, adding that he was never a burden on any bank.