Bailey v Irish Mirror Group Ltd & Others
THE CIVIL COURT
Defamation - Libel - Newspaper articles alleging that plaintiff violent towards women generally and ex-wife in particular - Whether articles suggesting that plaintiff murderer or murder suspect - Justification - Whether defendants publications protected by plea of justification - Articles suggesting plaintiff engaged in suspicious activities which would tend to implicate him in murder - Whether plea of partial justification proven in respect of those publications - Defamation Act 1961, section 22.
Facts: the plaintiff had been arrested on suspicion of murder. Various newspaper articles subsequently appeared and the plaintiff complained of the treatment he received from seven different publications. The plaintiff brought seven actions for defamation arising from the different articles. The defendants’ first defence was one of justification, the second being one of partial justification and the defendants argued that if neither of those succeeded they would rely on the defences of consent, qualified privilege and contributory negligence.
Held by Judge Moran in awarding the plaintiff Eur4,000 each as against the first and sixth defendants in respect of articles alleging that the plaintiff had been violent towards his ex-wife and dismissing the actions against the second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh defendants that a claim of libel alleges that the standing of the person the libel is published about has been reduced in the eyes of an ordinary person. When a court is deciding whether an allegation of defamation has been proven, it had to deal with the ordinary and natural meaning of the words complained of. Whether the plaintiff had been violent towards women was a question of fact for the trial judge to decide and he was satisfied that the defendants were justified in referring to him as being violent towards women generally and accordingly, had not been defamed by publications to that effect. Moreover, the articles in question did not, on a reading of them as an ordinary person, convey that the plaintiff was a murderer but that he was the main suspect for a murder. References in the articles to the plaintiff burning clothes and washing boots did not injure his reputation having regard to the truth of the charges which had been established that he was a murder suspect and accordingly, were partially justified under section 22 of the Defamation Act 1961. There was no evidence to support the contention that the plaintiff had been violent towards his ex-wife and accordingly, he had been defamed in that regard.
JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY HIS HONOUR JUDGE PATRICK MORAN ON MONDAY, 19TH JANUARY 2004 - DAY 11
I hereby certify the following judgment to be a true and accurate transcript of my shorthand notes of the evidence in the above-named matter.
For the PLAINTIFF:
For the DEFENDANTS:
McALEESE & CO.
THE JUDGMENT WAS DELIVERED AS FOLLOWS ON MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2004.
JUDGE MORAN: The time has now arrived for me to give judgment in this case. First of all, I want to thank the parties in the case for their assistance to me in providing me with the various legal references during the course of the trial and, secondly, to the defendants for providing me with an overnight transcript. That has been of particular assistance. It really meant I did not have to take copious notes and I was able to observe the various witnesses in the trial and
their behaviour and indeed the parties during the trial. It’s a wonderful facility to have and I wish that the Court Service would provide it for us Circuit Judges when we are dealing with criminal trials here. They do not and that is one of the disadvantages we have.
Madame Sophie du Plantier was brutally murdered in West Cork in December of 1996 and her body was discovered on 23 December. The result of that terrible tragedy was that there was, first of all, an elaborate Garda investigation as there should have been and, secondly, there was extensive press and media coverage. The press and media apparently descended upon West Cork to an enormous degree.
I suppose one reason was because Madame du Plantier came from a relatively well known French family and background and, secondly, because it happened in the very remote area of West Cork but a very beautiful area and an area known to many people as a holiday destination.
The plaintiff in this case Mr. Bailey is by occupation a journalist. Once this news broke about the discovery of the body of Madame du Plantier he became involved in reporting the story of the murder. He made numerous reports and he furnished numerous reports to various newspapers. I think the first one was on December 28 December and right through until in the fact the day of his arrest on 10 February to the Star and he was reporting for Paris Match and the Sunday Tribune and he provided a lot of information
During that time of course one can only presume and assume that the area of West Cork was full of rumour and talk, reports and counter-reports as to what had happened this unfortunate lady over the weekend of the 21 st/22nd December. I am sure that fingers were pointed in various directions and there were various stories. I am not concerned with those.
In any event the plaintiff was arrested on the morning of 10 February of 1997 and he was taken to Bandon Garda Station and apparently when he got out of the Garda car he was photographed.
offence and particularly in a murder case, I suppose in any serious criminal offence, they do it for very strong reasons and they usually do it because they have a strong suspicion as to the involvement of the injured party and I suspect that’s what they did on this particular day.
The plaintiff complains about his arrest and indeed of his treatment by the Gardai, but that is not a matter for this Court. If he has any complaints about his treatment by the Gardai there are other authorities and I think counsel referred to them, namely the Garda Complaints Board.
He was photographed and he was named and following this arrest there was further publicity. That is natural and that is normal. He was arrested as a suspected person involved in the murder of Madame du Plantier. Various newspaper articles appeared and he
complains of the treatment he has received from seven different publications, I think eight or nine articles in all.
I said at the outset of this case that this was not a murder trial. These are civil claims and they are actions in defamation. As the lawyers know, whatever about the general public, there is a difference in the standard of proof required in a criminal case as against a civil case. I was anxious that this trial should never take on the mantle of a criminal trial. I am afraid once or twice it may well have and I am sorry it did, but I want to emphasise this was not a criminal trial, not a criminal investigation and it
is not one.
I would have to say that evidence was given indeed during the course of these trials and these cases which would not be admitted for legal reasons in a criminal trial. Any findings of fact that I make in this case are made and based on the balance of probabilities and nothing else.
The Plaintiff brings seven actions arising from the different articles. The first one is against the Mirror for a publication of 14 February of the year 1997; the second one against the Sunday Independent of 20 July of 1997; the third one is against the Independent on Sunday for an article of 26 April of 1998; the fourth is against the Times Newspapers: One against the Times itself in respect of a report of 11 February of 1997; and the other one against the Sunday Times in respect of an article on
16 February of 1997. The next one is against the Star and there are two incidents there: One of 22 February of 1997; and the other of 19 December of 1997. The next one is the Sun and the date is 14 February of 1997. The final one is the Daily Telegraph for 3 March of 1997. I do not propose going through these articles.
I have read them on several occasions myself. They have been read to me here, they have been dealt with in depth by counsel on behalf of the plaintiff and in particular by counsel on behalf of the defence.
I just do not see any point in wasting time going through them again.
of justification, the second one is one of partial justification and then the defendants argue that if neither of those succeed they go on to rely on consent, on qualified privilege and contributory negligence.
The law in the case dealing with what is defamation was put very clearly to me by Mr. Gallagher in his submission to me and in his closing address. He says that if one is defamed one must deal with the ordinary and natural meaning of the words. He quoted to me an extract from Duncan and Neill on Defamation
which is as follows:
“In order to determine the natural and ordinary meaning of the words which the plaintiff complains of, it is necessary to take into account the context in which the words were used and the mode of publication. Thus, a plaintiff cannot select an isolated passage in an article and complain of that alone if
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