Former footballer says he was defamed after newspaper claims gang links

David Speedie (55) tells judge he was humiliated by articles falsely linking him to Fat Freddy Thompson

David Speedie pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of a High Court action for damages. Photograph: Courts Collins

David Speedie pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of a High Court action for damages. Photograph: Courts Collins

 

A former Premiership footballer has claimed a newspaper defamed him by falsely saying he was linked to Dublin gangland figures and crime.

David Speedie (55), who played for a number of top English clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, including Liverpool and Chelsea, says he was disgusted and humiliated by two articles in the Sunday World in April 2011.

He claims the articles falsely claimed he was linked to mobster Fat Freddy Thompson, damaged his reputation and lost him work as a football pundit on Irish television and radio.

He also claims the matter caused him to be depressed and frightened for his life to the extent he moved back to his UK home in Doncaster. He says he decided to return to Dublin because he missed his fiance Margaret Grey.

The publishers of the paper, Sunday Newspapers Ltd, editor Colm McGinty, and the journalist who wrote the story, Mick McCaffrey, deny defamation.

They say the articles are true in substance and fact and do not mean what Mr Speedie claims they mean.

Mr Speedie’s fiance is a sister of a woman married to Ritchie Thompson, Freddy Thompson’s older brother, a High Court judge and jury heard.

Mr Speedie claims the first article, published on April 10th 2011, headed “Kops and Robbers”, meant he was engaged in criminal activity, was involved in smuggling or transportation of drugs and had links to gangland crime.

A second article, published on April 24th, following a solicitor’s letter to the paper, was headed “Speedie the Snake” with a photograph of him handling a large snake at a birthday party.

He claims this meant he was a snake and a reptile and he had no cause to be upset about the previous article.

Opening the case, Mark Harty SC, for Mr Speedie, said the first article stated he had been “associating with known gangsters”, had been stopped frequently in Dublin by detectives and his car was seized on one occasion because duty had not been paid on the English registered vehicle.

It stated Mr Speedie had been drinking in a Dublin pub in March 2011 when Ritchie Thompson had his leg broken in an attack while Mr Thompson’s wife was slashed.

The story quoted Mr Speedie, also a former Scotland international, as saying he was not involved in crime, had no criminal convictions and insisting he was harrassed by gardaí because he was going out with a sister of the woman married to Ritchie Thompson.

He denied in the story he ever met or associated with Freddy Thompson and said the family association had nothing to do with him. The story also said he was quizzed by detectives “trying to keep a lid” on a gangland feud in the Crumlin/Drimnagh area which had claimed 16 lives.

Mr Harty said, despite a solicitor’s letter inviting the defendants to “set the record straight” after the first article appeared, the Sunday World published the “Speedie the Snake” article.

He is seeking substantial damages not simply to compensate him for the defamation but to vindicate his reputation,” counsel said.

Mr Speedie, who has a house in Courtown, Wexford, and also lives in McDonagh House, Golden Lane, Dublin, with his fiance, said he never said, or could not recall, much of what had been quoted by him in the first Sunday World article. 

He said the journalist first started talking about his work in reviving St Francis football club in Dublin’s inner city but as soon as he started talking about Freddy Thompson, he told him to “f*** off” and put the phone down.

When the paper came out, he could not believe what he read.

  “I was disgusted and mortified to be associated with somebody who is supposed to be a known criminal. I do not even know this guy (Freddy Thompson)”.

He said the reason he was stopped so many times by the gardaí was because he drove an English-registered Mercedes which he used in going back and forth between Ireland and England.

Under cross-examination by Eoin McCullough SC, he said he knew Ritchie Thompson as a taxi driver and while he attended the same social functions as him, he did not know him well as they were in different age brackets.

He did not know anything about Freddy Thompson except what was written in the papers.

He did not remember once telling a garda, who had stopped him driving, he “would not piss on Ritchie Thompson if he was on fire.”

The case continues before Mr Justice John Hedigan and a jury.