Denis O'Brien came to court 'spoiling for a fight', jury told

Denis O'Brien

Denis O’Brien’s defamation case against the Sunday Business Post “deserves to be thrown out on its backside”, a High Court jury has been told.

Michael McDowell SC urged the jury not to “fall for this phoney effort” to persuade them Mr O’Brien was defamed in articles of March 15, 2015.

There was no defamation and Mr O’Brien had come to court “spoiling for a fight”, he said.

Mr O’Brien wants to “put down” people who are “decent, honourable, truthful journalists who keep our democracy going by telling us the truth”, he said.

These were people who were careful and who got the articles “lawyered”.

The jury heard closing addresses from both sides in the case today and will be instructed in the law by Mr Justice Bernard Barton tomorrow before retiring to consider their verdict.

The articles named Mr O'Brien as among the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008 and their focus was a confidential PwC report to the Government about the exposure of Ireland’s banks in 2008.

Journalist Tom Lyons got a copy from a source in 2015 and shredded it shortly after the articles were published to protect the source.

Mr O'Brien claims the articles wrongly meant he was among a “gang” of 22 borrowers who “wrecked the country”, that they defamed him and injured his reputation.

The defendant, Post Publications Ltd, denies the words mean what he alleges, denies defamation and malicious publication, and has pleaded "fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest".

Today, Mr McDowell said Mr O’Brien’s case is “disgraceful”, “wholly unfounded, manufactured, false, irresponsible and malicious”.

He said Mr O’Brien has come to court to get damages because he “wants to exercise power” over the SBP and “punish people whom he claims were malicious towards him”.

Mr O’Brien had been “vicious” in some of his evidence towards Mr Lyons and former SBP editor Ian Kehoe, he said.

Mr Lyons and Mr Kehoe had given evidence, because of the “fear factor” concerning Mr O’Brien, they had considered leaving him out of the articles but explained they could not be reduced by threats or fear of litigation by making no reference to Mr O’Brien.

That evidence “rings true and is true”, counsel said.

The jury must decide who is telling the truth, the “flamboyant” Mr O’Brien who says he was the “victim” and the “central figure” in the articles when he “was not”.

The PwC report put Mr O’Brien as number 10 of the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008, he said.

Noone in 2015 who construed the articles as meaning Mr O’Brien faced financial pressure in 2008 could, when also told he had repaid all his loans, was the best customer of Irish banks and a successful mobile phone and media entrepreneur, consider that defamatory, he said.

It was untrue to say Mr O’Brien was given a central role in the coverage, the story was “simply not about him”, he said.

It was also incorrect to say a pen picture of Mr O’Brien in one article was a “needle in the haystack” in the context of the overall coverage.

That piece contained information from the PwC report and said he had repaid all his debts to Anglo and is one of AIB and Bank of Ireland’s best clients.

The articles contained no criticism of Mr O’Brien, he said.

In his closing address for Mr O'Brien, Paul O Higgins SC counsel said a lot had been said about this case being “vicious” and there was an attempt on behalf of the SBP to “turn it on its head” by making the SBP the “victims”.

Mr O’Brien was not out to personalise the case or destroy anyone and he had sued the SBP and not the journalists involved in the articles although he would have been entitled to do so, he said.

For the standards of a broadsheet newspaper, the “get up” of the articles was “sensationalistic, heavily coloured and designed to wow you from the very front page”.

Mr O’Brien was a “fish out of water” among the 22 as he was not a “developer king”, not under huge financial pressure, not “massively overstretched” and had brought €600m back into the country.

It was also “exceptionally unfair” to list him in a front page graphic among seven other people who had “huge problems”.

He was “singled out for special treatment” and included among “developer kings” when the SBP knew his main business was not development and he had no exposure to development loans, Paul O Higgins SC said.

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