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Quinn group loses action to limit 'Tribune' libel defence - IT

04 November 2011

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QUINN INSURANCE Group has lost a High Court bid to strike out parts of the Sunday Tribune’s defence to forthcoming libel proceedings taken against it by the insurance company.

The libel action is over articles alleging the group recruited gardaí to approach solicitors to offer them bonuses on their fees to recommend reduced settlements to clients in cases against Quinn Direct.

Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne yesterday ruled the defendants had provided adequate details of its plea of justification for the article and also sufficiently set out the nature of the public interest being relied upon to justify the article.

The defence has pleaded, if the words complained of meant what the Quinn group allege (which is denied), then those words were “true in substance and in fact” and publication was in the public interest.

The judge was ruling on a preliminary application in proceedings by Quinn Insurance Ltd, Quinn Group Ltd, group founder Seán Quinn and senior executive Kevin Lunney, formerly a senior executive with Tribune Newspapers, over articles published in the Sunday Tribune on April 1st and 8th, 2007.

The plaintiffs are alleging libel and intentional infliction of economic damage in their action against Tribune Newspapers plc, Nóirín Hegarty, editor of the paper and two journalists Conor McMorrow and Michael Clifford.

The judge noted the articles complained of were headlined: “Revealed: how gardaí and solicitors helped Ireland’s richest man make millions”. She noted significant reliance was placed by the defendants on a document purporting to be an internal memo written by Mr Lunney in October 2001, the authenticity of which was a matter of serious dispute between the sides.

The plaintiffs sought to strike out the plea of justification on grounds of alleged failure to provide sufficient particulars of that plea. Alternatively, they sought orders requiring the defendants to provide the details sought.

The judge noted the plaintiffs claimed they needed to know which of Quinn’s employees were alleged to have acted corruptly and in what circumstances. They also said the claims managers and solicitors involved in the alleged practices should be identified.

The judge ruled the plaintiffs had been given a broad outline of the material facts relied on by the defendants and this was no more nor less than they were entitled to.

It was clear the allegations relating to the use of serving members of the Garda and of “unlawful and unethical” practices derived from the memo’s contents, she said. She had little doubt the defendants would find it extremely difficult to identify the names and addresses of gardaí allegedly employed by the company, particular claims managers allegedly involved or allegedly affected claimants.

The plaintiffs must be aware how its business was conducted and she was certainly not of the view the absence of the information sought amounted to “trial by ambush”.