O'Brien happy to have been 'vindicated'

 

Businessman Denis O'Brien declared yesterday he had been "vindicated" after a High Court jury awarded him €750,000 damages, the highest ever amount awarded for libel, against the Mirror Group of newspapers over an article published in the Irish Mirror eight years ago.

During the case, the court was told that Mr O'Brien intended to give any award to charity.

The size of the award is expected to be appealed by the Mirror to the Supreme Court. That court had sent the case back to the High Court after it found an earlier award of £250,000 (€317,000) damages to Mr O'Brien, for the same libel, was "disproportionately high".

Before yesterday, the highest award for libel was £300,000 to former Democratic Left leader, now Labour Party MEP, Proinsias De Rossa.

The award was made by a jury of five women and six men after deliberating for an hour and 18 minutes. The jury had only to decide the amount of damages as the newspaper had admitted the article in question was untrue and defamatory of Mr O'Brien.

Afterwards, a clearly emotional Mr O'Brien said: "I am vindicated. This case has been going on since 1998. It was a very serious libel. It was an outrageous libel and I am happy to have been vindicated."

In April last, the Mirror Group admitted that the article, published over three pages in the Irish Mirror in June, 1998, was untrue and defamatory of Mr O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien had brought an action against the Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd over the article which appeared in the Irish Mirror on June 10th, 1998.

It alleged former government minister Ray Burke was to be investigated for a third alleged payment of £30,000 and referred to an anonymous letter which alleged the donation came from "top radio boss Denis O'Brien".

A jury in the High Court in 1999 found Mr O'Brien, then Esat Digifone chairman, had been libelled and awarded him £250,000 damages in the case. However, the Supreme Court, on appeal by the newspaper group, found that award was "disproportionately high" and sent the case back to be retried only in relation to the amount of damages.

During the three-day hearing Mr O'Brien told the jury he "never ever" gave money to Mr Burke. He also said he had never bribed former communications minister Michael Lowry or any other politician.

After the jury had returned with their decision on damages, Eoin McCullough SC, for the newspaper, said it was an "extremely high award", the highest in such cases, and asked for a stay on the award in the event of an appeal which is likely.

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said she would put a stay on the award providing there was a payout of €250,000 which she said was like the previous award but had "a nice ring to it".

A legal adviser to the Mirror Group in Ireland, James O'Leary, said the newspaper group was very disappointed with the level of the award.