Man seeks apology over paper's claim of relationship

 

A MAN serving a sentence for possessing child pornography has asked Dublin Circuit Court to direct the Star on Sundayto publish a retraction and apology for its claim he had a “seedy” and “weird” relationship with convicted rapist Larry Murphy.

This is the first case taken under the new 2009 Defamation Act, which permits a person to seek an order from the court that he or she has been defamed, and to seek an order directing that the publication publish a correction, without the payment of any damages.

Barry Watters (34), of Hazelwood Avenue, Bay Estate, Dundalk, Co Louth, pleaded guilty in April 2008 and in October 2009 to possession of child pornography and is serving a three-year sentence in Arbour Hill prison.

On September 5th, 2010, the Star on Sundaypublished an article entitled “Larry’s Secret Shower Buddy” which, according to an affidavit filed on behalf of Watters, “purports to be an exposé of a relationship quite clearly presented as being sexual in nature between our client and Mr Larry Murphy, a recently released and extremely high profile convict.”

Hugh Mohan, counsel for Watters, told the court all references to a relationship between his client and Murphy were untrue. He referred to a letter from the governor of the prison which said there was “absolutely no truth” in the claims made in the Star on Sunday about his client’s conduct in Arbour Hill prison, and expressed concern about the “targeting of vulnerable persons in custody in calculated, baseless, malicious and false articles”.

He said his client acknowledged his conviction under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act. He sought therapy in prison and was determined not to reoffend and to reintegrate into society. The published article would prevent this, and also affected his elderly parents. After its publication, Watters was on suicide watch for 72 hours.

Mr Mohan said the replying affidavit from the newspaper did not answer the falsity of information published, but sought to “demonise” his client with further false information. “They have not sought to stand over the story,” he said. They claimed his client had no reputation and so could not be defamed.

Eoin McCullough, counsel for the Star on Sunday, said the facts were not in dispute. Watters had been convicted of possessing child pornography and received a suspended sentence. Less than a year later he was seen on a bus with pornographic images on a camera and his home was raided by gardaí who found 81 images of child pornography. The court had described him as “a social pariah” and sent him to prison for a total of three years. These were serious offences even on the scale of sex offences.

The key question was whether people would think any worse of Watters, who had said the newspaper was claiming he was some sort of pervert. “He is,” Mr McCullough said.

He said it was not defamatory in this day and age to say a person was engaged in a lawful sexual activity with another adult. “Is it defamatory of anyone to say they were engaged in a homosexual relationship?” he asked.

Judge Joseph Matthews said the plaintiff had been associated with a sensational name, described as “the beast of Baltinglass”. Mr McCullough said it did not matter whether the alleged relationship was with a person with a good or a bad reputation.

Asked whether he was saying allegations concerning a relationship with Murphy could have no relevance given what had gone before, Mr McCullough said: “Yes. Defamation is not about particular facts and whether they are precisely true. The question becomes – is his reputation any worse as a result of the publication? He is a social pariah.”

The judge reserved judgment.