Kepak wins €150,000 over articles

 

MEAT PROCESSING company Kepak has been awarded €150,000 damages by a High Court jury against an Irish-based Polish newspaper over false articles claiming it had worked one of its Polish workers to death.

Kepak, with registered offices in Clonee, Co Meath, had sued Wydawnictwo Polska Gazeta Ltd, trading as Polska Gazeta, a weekly paper with a circulation of 10,000 with registered offices at North Great George’s Street, Dublin.

Kepak claimed, as a result of two untrue articles published by the paper on June 5th, 2008, it had suffered loss and damage, odium, ridicule, contempt, distress and embarrassment.

A solicitor who had acted for the newspaper company told the court yesterday it had ceased trading and “did not want to be involved” in the court case.

A jury of eight men and four women found Kepak had been defamed and awarded compensatory damages of €120,000 and aggravated damages of €30,000.

The court heard Polska Gazetapublished two articles arising from the death of Leszek Pas (48), who worked for six years at Kepak’s processing plant in Ballymahon, Co Longford, where two-thirds of employees are Polish. An inquest found he died from cardiac arrest secondary to blocked arteries.

Gareth Compton, for Kepak, said Pas arrived for work on May 28th, 2008, feeling ill and having difficulties breathing. He was taken to Mullingar hospital in a car by one of the other workers, but died at 8.20am.

In a “scathing attack”, the newspaper printed two stories headed: “Death from overworking” and “200% productivity”, counsel said. The paper had blamed Kepak for his death, falsely describing the factory as “nothing more than a sweatshop” where workers were worked like slaves, counsel said.

Those “terrible allegations” were completely untrue and caused distress and damage to the company and its employees, counsel said. No attempt had been made to contact the company before the articles were published, and nor was any apology issued.

After court proceedings were issued and in an effort to “drag up dirt”, the paper had published an advertisement-type notice on February 10th, 2009, asking people who worked in Kepak, Ballymahon, in 2007/2008 to contact it if they felt they “were harmed by the employer”, counsel said.

John Walsh, Ballymahon factory manager, told the court the company prided itself on how well it treated workers, providing them with assistance from their arrival at the airport here to getting accommodation.

Many workers had been recruited directly from their home country and some had persuaded relatives to come here, Mr Walsh said. The articles caused great distress among employees, who had brought the newspaper’s claims to the attention of management.

Brendan O’Sullivan, butcher manager with Kepak, said he had taken the decision to have Pas brought by car to hospital because it would only take 20 minutes. It had taken between 40 minutes and two hours for ambulances to get to the factory when emergencies previously occurred, he said.

Comments had been made to him during football outings between Kepak workers and other factory workers about him being “the man who killed the Polish worker in Ballymahon”, he said. This had been very upsetting as it was untrue and ridiculous, he said.