Gordon v The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMr. Justice Bernard J. Barton
Judgment Date04 Mar 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] IEHC 363
Docket NumberRecord No. 2015/1418 P

[2020] IEHC 363

THE HIGH COURT

Bernard J. Barton J.

Record No. 2015/1418 P

BETWEEN/
CHRIS GORDON
PLAINTIFF
- AND -
THE IRISH RACEHORSE TRAINERS ASSOCIATION
DEFENDANT

Defamation – Qualified privilege – Evidence – Plaintiff seeking a direction that the jury disregard evidence given on behalf of the defendant – Whether the evidence was inadmissible and prejudicial

Facts: The plaintiff, Mr Gordon, applied to the High Court for the following orders in a defamation suit: (i) a direction that the jury disregard all evidence given on behalf of the defendant, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, by the well-known racehorse trainer Ms Doyle; and (ii) an order striking out the plea of qualified privilege raised by way of defence to three of the seven publications the subject matter of the proceedings. The gravamen of the plaintiff’s application was that the purpose of the evidence given to date by Ms Doyle on behalf of the defendant was to establish the truth of the impugned statements, a course which in the circumstances the plaintiff contended was wholly impermissible; the evidence was inadmissible and prejudicial to the point that the damage caused could not be undone, the only practicable remedy for which was to grant reliefs sought.

Held by Barton J that to accede to the application in the circumstances would amount to choosing what might be described as a nuclear option to deal with the issue which arose which would mean depriving the defendant of a defence provided by law raised in relation to three of the impugned publications thereby turning the claim into an assessment and rendering the defendant liable in damages. Barton J was satisfied a more measured response to the situation which arose that would meet the justice of the case was required. Accordingly, the Court refused the application.

Barton J held that the justice of the case was best served by a direction to the jury, before Ms Doyle returned to the witness box, to the effect that insofar as any evidence they had heard from the witness to date or may hear from her or other witnesses conveyed an impression that they would be concerned with determining the true nature of the document shown to the Doyles in the yard by Mr Gordon they should be disabused of that and instructed such was not an issue they would be given to try and further that any evidence which proved or which tended to prove the truth of the impugned statements in quo should be disregarded by them; the jury would also be directed to disregard the witness’s evidence which set up a contest between reputations, the only relevant reputation being that of the plaintiff.

Application granted.

Judgment of Mr. Justice Bernard J. Barton delivered the 4th day of March 2020
1

This is the judgment of the Court on the Plaintiff's application for the following orders in a defamation suit:

(i) a direction that the jury disregard all evidence given on behalf of the Defendant by the well-known racehorse trainer Ms. Liz Doyle; and

(ii) an order striking out the plea of qualified privilege raised by way of defence to three of the seven publications the subject matter of the proceedings.

Significant consequences for the parties will flow from the making of the orders sought, the most serious of which would deprive the Defendant of the defence of Qualified Privilege in respect of the first, second and fifth publications. Following from that eventuality the Plaintiff would be relieved of the necessity to establish malice, essentially turning the case into an assessment of damages in respect of the three publications in quo, there being no plea in the alternative. In this regard it should be noted that the Defendant

2

However, the gravamen of the Plaintiff's application is that the purpose of the evidence given to date by Ms Doyle on behalf of the Defendant is to establish the truth of the impugned statements, a course which in the circumstances the Plaintiff contends is wholly impermissible. The evidence is inadmissible and prejudicial to the point that the damage caused cannot be undone, the only practicable remedy for which is to grant reliefs sought. The reasons for the application and the ruling thereon by the Court must necessarily be viewed in context, accordingly, a brief synopsis of the factual background to the case follows.

Background
3

The Plaintiff is employed as the head of security for what was formerly known as the Irish Turf Club (the Turf Club). He took up this employment in 2010 following a distinguished career as a police officer with An Garda Síochána and retired from the force as a superintendent after 30 years' service. Prior tothe establishment of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board in 2018, the Turf Club, which originated in the 18th Century, was responsible for the overall governance of the horseracing industry in Ireland. Amongst the functions exercised in this role was responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of the rules of flat and steeplechase horseracing, the object of which being to ensure integrity in all aspects of the sport.

4

In 2012 there were several high-profile prosecutions arising from the importation and use of anabolic steroids in racing and show jumping bloodstock. One such prosecution involved a retired Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector, John Hughes. On 4 October, 2013 he pleaded guilty to possession of significant quantities of Nitrotane, a powerful anabolic steroid he had imported for sale and use in the equine industry. The Turf Club recognised that the use of anabolic steroids and other banned substances in racehorses carried very serious implications for the integrity of horse racing and constituted a significant risk to the industry in general, accordingly, it determined to take decisive action to ascertain the extent of the abuse and to stamp out the practice.

5

Following the successful outcome of the criminal proceedings against John Hughes, the Turf Club invited the Plaintiff, as head of security, to make several recommendations as to how best this objective might be achieved. One of the recommendations made in particular was considered to have industry-wide potential for tackling the problem. This involved Turf Club officials working in concert with officials from the Special Investigations Unit of the Department of Agriculture. The significance of the proposal from the perspective of the Turf Club lay in the statutory power enjoyed by the Department's inspectors to enter and search the premises of racehorse trainers for banned substances and to do so without notice.

6

While it was a condition of granting the annual training licence to racehorse trainers that certain types of yard inspections by Turf Club officials would be permitted, the officials enjoyed no power of entry per se, moreover, the scope of inspection was limited. Ms Doyle is and was a racehorse trainer, licenced by the Turf Club. She is also a member of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, which is incorporated as a company limited by guarantee and is the Defendant herein. The proceedings originate because of certain events which occurred surrounding and during a joint inspection of Ms Doyle's yard on the 26 March 2014.

7

Some two months previously, on the 22nd January 2014, a meeting took place between representatives of the Department of Agriculture and the Turf Club at which certain information and documentation were shared with the Turf Club representatives. The documentation included the book of evidence used in the successful prosecution of John Hughes. Of relevance to the issues in these proceedings and the evidence given in relation thereto by Ms. Doyle, the book of evidence contained bank statements and bank lodgement receipts for monies paid into a joint bank account held by himself and his wife.

8

According to the evidence given by and on behalf of the Plaintiff regarding the source of the lodgements, several of these were identified only by the initials written on the lodgement dockets of the individuals making the payments. One docket was for a total amount of €590 made up of two payments, one of €390 with the initials ‘TD’ and the other of €200 beside the initials ‘LD’ had been written. Mr Louis Reardon, a senior official of the Department of Agriculture produced a single copy of the book of evidence at the meeting, which he handed over to Mr. Denis Egan, Chief Executive Officer of the Turf Club.

9

In an effort to ascertain the names of the individuals who had made payments but were identified only by initials, Mr Egan gave evidence that when he came to the lodgement docket with the initials ‘TD’ and ‘LD’ he thought the latter possibly referred to Liz Doyle as she was the only licenced trainer he could think of at the time whose initials were ‘LD’ so he wrote her name on the docket followed by a question mark; an entry which events have proved was to have far-reaching consequences.

10

Following the meeting, it was agreed that joint inspections of trainer's yards would be initiated, involving inspectors from the Turf Club and the Special Investigations Unit of the Department of Agriculture. Copies of the book of evidence, which included the entry made by Mr Egan, were made available to the Plaintiff and his deputy, Mr Declan Buckley, as part of the identification process. In the context of the controversy which arose over the events which gave rise to these proceedings, the Plaintiff's evidence is that at the time of the joint inspection of her yard he was unaware Ms Doyle's name did not appear on the original lodgement docket but had been written in subsequently by Mr Egan on the copy of the book of evidence handed to him by Mr Reardon during the meeting with the officials from the Department of Agriculture officials.

11

Using the information which had been obtained during the meeting as well as from an anonymous source, a list of yards was compiled by the Turf...

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2 cases
  • Gordon v The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 9 September 2020
    ...to the case and the issues left to the Jury see the judgments of the Court in Gordon v. The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association [2020] IEHC 363 and Gordon v. The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association [2020] IEHC 425. Suffice it to say at this juncture that the case concerned seven defamator......
  • Gordon v The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 20 March 2020
    ...reader may find the background to the case set out in the judgement of the Court in Gordon v. The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association [2020] IEHC 363, to be of assistance in contextualising the 2 Written and oral submissions were made on the application and have been considered by the Cour......

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