Quinn Insurance Ltd and Others v Tribune Newspapers Plc and Others

JurisdictionIreland
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMs. Justice Dunne
Judgment Date13 May 2009
Neutral Citation[2009] IEHC 229
Docket Number[No. 2858 P/2007]
Date13 May 2009

[2009] IEHC 229

THE HIGH COURT

[No. 2858 P/2007]
Quinn Insurance Ltd & Ors v Tribune Newspapers Plc & Ors

BETWEEN

QUINN INSURANCE LIMITED, QUINN GROUP LIMITED, SEAN QUINN AND KEVIN LUNNEY
PLAINTIFFS

AND

TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS PLC. NOIRIN HEGARTY, CONOR MCMORROW AND MICHAEL CLIFFORD
DEFENDANTS

DEFAMATION ACT 1961 S22

RSC O.19 r28

RSC O.19 r27

RSC O.19 r7

RSC O.19 r3

MAHON v CELBRIDGE SPINNING CO LTD 1967 IR 1

MCGEE v O'REILLY 1996 2 IR 229

ASI SUGAR LTD v GREENCORE GROUP PLC UNREP FINNEGAN 11.2.2003 2004/2/384

COONEY v BROWNE 1985 IR 185

MCDONAGH v SUNDAY NEWSPAPERS 2005 4 IR 528 2005/42/8666

DOYLE v INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS (IRL) LTD & ORS 2001 4 IR 594

JOHNSTON v CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY & ORS UNREP SUPREME 7.11.2001 2001/12/3513

HICKINBOTHAM v LEACH 1842 10 M & W 361 1842 2 DOWL NS 270, 11 L J EX 341

COX DEFAMATION LAW 2007

COOPER FLYNN v RTE 2000 3 IR 344

RSC O.31 r18(2)

Abstract:

Tort law - Practice and Procedure- Defamation - Replies to particulars - Public interest - Allegations as to unethical relationships with Gardai - Whether defendant was obliged to provide more particularity in replies to particulars as to the nature of the case being made.

Facts: The plaintiffs commenced proceedings claiming damages for libel and the tort of intentional infliction of economic damage arising out of a series of articles published by the defendant newspaper that made allegations of improper relationships between the insurance company and the Gardai. The defence raised the public interest by way of particulars of the defence and the plaintiffs were dissatisfied with later replies to particulars as to the public interest defence. The plaintiffs claimed inter alia that they were entitled to know the case being made against them as to the alleged unethical practices referred to. The defence contended that there was no obligation on them to go beyond the broad outline of the case provided.

Held by Dunne J. that the defendants had identified with sufficient particularity the nature of the public interest that they purported to rely on. It was not necessary to furnish any further reply to that question. The order for the reliefs sought would not be made. The plaintiffs would not be subject to trial by ambush.

Reporter: E.F.

Ms. Justice Dunne
1

The plaintiffs herein commenced proceedings claiming damages for libel and the tort of intentional infliction of economic damage, arising out of the publication of a series of articles published and written by the defendants in the'Sunday Tribune' newspaper in its editions of 1st and 8th April, 2007.

2

The first and second named plaintiffs are limited liability companies, the first of which carries on business as an insurance company, and the second of which is the parent company of a series of companies including the first named plaintiff, with interests in a wide range of businesses in this jurisdiction and the United Kingdom and Europe. The third named plaintiff is a businessman and the Chairman of the first and second named plaintiff companies. The fourth named plaintiff is a senior executive with the second named plaintiff and was previously a senior executive with the first named plaintiff.

3

The headings of the articles complained of in the'Sunday Tribune' of 1st April, 2007, gives a flavour of the matters complained of in these proceedings:

"Revealed: how gardaí and solicitors helped Ireland's richest man make millions."

4

Beneath that headline was a sub-heading which stated:

"Confidential internal memo outlines how: A panel of senior Gardai relay detailed background information to Quinn Direct; Garda panel offer plaintiff solicitors a bonus to recommend early settlements in cases against firm."

5

The articles were accompanied by a photograph of the third named plaintiff. In the course of the articles, significant reliance was placed by the defendants on a document purporting to be an internal memorandum written by the fourth named plaintiff in October 2001. The authenticity of this document is a matter of serious dispute between the parties in this action.

6

In the course of the statement of claim, portions of the articles complained of are referred to specifically and I propose to refer to them here also as they seem to me to contain the thrust of the allegations made against the plaintiffs in the articles, and which are complained of in these proceedings. The main article complained of commenced as follows:

"Quinn Direct, the motor insurance company set up by Ireland's richest man, Sean Quinn, offered claimants' solicitors a sweetener to settle quickly in an innovative cost-cutting measure."

7

The company also recruited serving gardaí to investigate claims and settle them as quickly as possible on the company's behalf, according to a confidential company memo.

8

Members of this garda panel approached plaintiffs' solicitors, offering them a bonus on their fees to recommend reduced settlements to their clients in cases against Quinn Direct."

9

An editorial in the same edition of the'Sunday Tribune' contained the following passages:

"There are many deeply worrying aspects to the relationship between the gardaí and the insurance giants, Quinn Direct and [another] revealed in the'Sunday Tribune' today.

It is a bedrock of policing that the gardaí remain independent of vested interests, be they their political masters, business interests such as insurance company … or even just their good friends. On the other side, the political, business and legal institutions of this State who work closely with the gardaí have a moral, ethical and, in some regards, legal responsibility to respect the Force's independence and to do nothing to undermine it.

Yet, in 2001, Quinn Direct, the multibillion euro insurance business built up by Cavan man, Sean Quinn, now officially Ireland's wealthiest individual, crossed that line.

Six years ago, when the fledgling company was battling both our ruinous 'compo culture' and the established insurance multinationals which dominated the market here, Quinn Direct put into operation a business plan that involved a scandalous subversion of garda independence and infringement of data protection legislation."

10

The editorial continued by referring to the first named defendant's denial of the allegations by stating:

"Quinn Direct has denied these charges, but this denial contradicts the company's own internal documentation which we have published today."

11

All of the articles complained of are set out in appendices to the statement of claim herein.

12

The defence filed on behalf of the defendants herein contains,inter alia, the following pleas at paras. 5-7 inclusive:

13

2 "5. Further or in the alternative and without prejudice to the foregoing, the defendants plead that if and insofar as the words published on 1st and 8th April, 2007 bore and were understood to bear the meanings complained of, then the same are true in substance and in fact:

14

(a) The memorandum is authentic, and the defendants are entitled as against the plaintiffs to assume the accuracy of its contents.

15

(b) The first named plaintiff made use of the services of retired members of An Garda Siochána to investigate and handle claims, but on occasion, made use of the services of serving members.

16

(c) The first named plaintiff obtained from State servants, but, in particular, from serving members of An Garda Siochána, access to confidential information in the possession of various State agencies including, in particular, the Department of Social Welfare and An Garda Siochána, thereby acting both unethically and in breach of the laws relating to privacy and data protection.

17

(d) The first named plaintiffs, through its claims managers, made use of the services of serving members of An Garda Siochána to obtain introductions to accident victims or their relatives, and access to vehicles and accident sites.

18

(e) The first named plaintiff, through its claims managers, engaged in other unlawful and unethical practices.

19

(f) The first named plaintiff issued a statement denying that it had engaged in unlawful and unethical practices, although it knew that this was untrue.

20

6. Further, or in the alternative and without prejudice to the foregoing, the defendants will, so far as it may be necessary to do so, rely on the provisions of section [22] of the Defamation Act 1961.

21

7. Further, or in the alternative and without prejudice to the foregoing, the words complained of in both the edition of the 1st April and the edition of 8th April, 2007, were published on an occasion or occasions of qualified privilege.

22

The subject matter of the articles were matters of public interest, namely, (a) the relationship between the insurance industry in general and the first named plaintiff, in particular, on the one hand, and An Garda Siochána and(sic) the other hand, and (b) the practices in which the first named plaintiff allegedly engaged in the pursuit of its business. The defendants acted responsibly in the research and publication of these articles. The subject matter of the articles was one of public interest. The information on which the articles were based was received from an apparently reliable source. Comment was sought from the plaintiffs, and the articles contain the gist of the plaintiffs' side of the story. The articles were written in a responsible tone.

23

In addition to the foregoing, the defendants plead that the material published on 8th April, 2007, was largely by way of reportage of current events of public interest, including the public interest in the fact of a Garda investigation, and was both fair and neutral in tone."

24

Following the delivery of the defence dated 23rd July, 2007, the plaintiffs raised particulars thereon by notice for particulars dated 2nd August, 2007. Replies...

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