Dana defamation case against INM struck out

Dana Rosemary Scallon, the singer, former MEP, and former presidential candidate, had not sued the correct defendant, the court found.

A defamation and malicious falsehood action against Independent News and Media plc (INM) by Dana Rosemary Scallon has been struck out by the High Court.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys today found the singer, former MEP, and former presidential candidate had not sued the correct defendant.

INM plc is the parent company of companies which publish a number of newspaper titles but it is not the publisher of the papers, he found.

He also refused to allow Ms Scallon's lawyers amend the proceedings to add the actual publishers — Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd, Sunday Newspapers Ltd, and INM Ltd — as defendants.

He said Ms Scallon had a "weighty claim" to begin with and had already got an apology and substantial damages over the same article from the Sunday World publishers in Belfast.

The fault lay not with her but with her solicitors in suing the wrong defendants and in failing to amend the claim when it was pointed out to them by INM in 2016, he said.

Ms Scallon sued over four articles she claimed appeared in print editions of the Sunday World and Belfast Telegraph, on the Irish Independent Twitter account and the Sunday World Facebook account and online edition in July 2014. She said they were defamatory because they falsely accused her of being, among other things, an "enabler" of paedophilia, a liar, and a hypocrite.

She said the articles falsely alleged she had told a trial in England of her brother John Brown — who was cleared of charges of indecent assault on two girls — that she had brought her brother to a priest "to be cured".

She also sued for malicious falsehood and breach of privacy.

INM denied her claims but agreed the reference to bringing her brother to a priest was an error and was never said.

INM sought to have her action struck out because she sued the wrong legal entity despite Ms Scallon having been told so by INM early on in the proceedings. It was argued it was not now possible for her to seek to join the correct entities as defendants because the two-year time limit for taking defamation actions had run out.

She had sued INM plc trading as the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World,and Belfast Telegraph. Her lawyers argued INM was the correct defendant.

She opposed the INM strike-out application and separately sought summary judgment against INM which was opposed.

The court heard that since the case was before the court last week, Ms Scallon's lawyers had sought to join Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd, Sunday Newspapers Ltd, and INM Ltd.

Her counsel, Mel Christle, said this was also an action for malicious falsehood and a constitutional action which have a six-year time limit and, providing it was moved before Friday this week, it was within time.

The practical way of dealing with the matter was to join the three limited companies which are wholly owned subsidiaries of the INM "business empire", he said.

There would be no prejudice to INM by allowing this amendment to the proceedings and it did not "come out of the blue", counsel argued.

Eoin McCullough, for INM, in opposing the application, said the attempt to join the three new defendants did not make any difference to INM's application to have the proceedings against it struck out, he said.

There would be prejudice to the new defendants and the proper approach for Ms Scallon would be to issue completely new proceedings for malicious falsehood against those new defendants.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Humphreys said allowing new defendants to be added would amount to a totally new case.

It was substantially an action in defamation which was manifestly statute-barred and the claims of malicious falsehood and breach of privacy were more fragmentary and could not be transmogrified into another case. To add the new defendants would be an attempt to circumvent the fact that the defamation proceedings were statute-barred, he said.

The consequences of his refusal to allow the new defendants to be added was that he must strike the entire claim as bound to fail.

Costs will be decided later.

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