Denis O’Brien drops private eye from appeal in Red Flag battle

Most of what investigator Martin Coyne claimed of self and alleged expertise questioned

Businessman Denis O'Brien has dropped a private investigator from the resources he says he will deploy in his appeal against a High Court judgment in his long-running battle with a public relations firm.

Mr O'Brien turned to Martin Coyne, who is based in the Netherlands, in October 2015 at an early stage in his dispute with Red Flag Consulting. He wants that company to identify a client for whom it assembled some 339 cuttings about him, mostly from newspapers.

However, since emerging as a character in the saga, most of what Mr Coyne claims about himself and his alleged expertise has been called into question.

Mr O'Brien wishes to appeal a judgment, handed down in December by Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh, in response to his request for discovery of the Red Flag client, which was refused save for one category of document sought.


Both sides accept the discovery granted is of such limited value as to be effectively useless.

On January 27th, when Mr O’Brien first lodged a notice of appeal against the judgment, he said he was not requesting a priority hearing and indicated he would, in arguing his case, be relying on no fewer than 82 documents.

These included affidavits sworn by several individuals, not least Mr O’Brien himself and a solicitor acting for him, Diarmuid O’Comhain. His affidavits had reports written by Mr Coyne attached to them as exhibits in the case.

Change in tack

However, Mr O'Brien returned to court last week to change tack. His barrister, Michael Cush SC, told the president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Sean Ryan, that Mr O'Brien now wanted an early hearing.

Mr Cush said this was because the two-year statute of limitations relating to defamation might lapse before an appeal had been heard.

Mr Justice Ryan declined to set a date for an early hearing. However, he said he would place the appeal on the list to fix dates for April 27th, adding there was no guarantee an early date would be available when both sides returned to court on that date.

Apart from now seeking an earlier hearing, a document lodged with the Court of Appeal indicates that Mr O'Brien has also dropped Mr Coyne, whose company Digitpol is registered in Hong Kong but operates from Rotterdam.

Mr O’Brien gave Mr Coyne a USB memory stick, the single piece of evidence at the heart of his conspiracy and defamation case against Red Flag, just before the High Court ordered that it be held only by Mr O’Brien’s solicitor and not interfered with.

Mr Coyne says he took the USB to the Netherlands and kept it there for 10 days, despite the High Court order. During that time, he accessed the stick, both creating and deleting files on it.

Mr O’Brien’s lawyers deny the stick was thereby interfered with but forensic digital analysts hired by Red Flag say it was.

Attached as exhibits

Mr Coyne, who has claimed to have a doctorate, a masters and two primary degrees but in reality has none, wrote three reports for Mr O’Brien, and these were attached as exhibits to affidavits sworn by Mr O’Comhain that were included in the original appeal documents.

The second and third reports each rewrote parts of Mr Coyne’s original report, aspects of which had been shown not to accord with verifiable facts.

As part of his return to the courts last week, Mr O’Brien’s lawyers have indicated they will now be relying in the appeal on just 31 documents. These include various legal submissions and notices of particulars related to earlier proceedings, but Mr O’Comhain’s affidavits, to which Mr Coyne’s reports are attached, are not among them.

The change in tack came on the day The Irish Times reported that Mr Coyne had given false information about himself to Dutch police, for whom he once worked on contract. It seems likely, however, that the decision to drop Mr Coyne had been taken before the newspaper report was published.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times