Man awarded €900,000 after paper wrongly called him 'drug king'

A Sligo man who was libelled when a newspaper called him a Traveller "drug king" was awarded a record €900,000 in damages at the High Court this evening.

A jury of seven women and five men found that Martin McDonagh, a father of eight from Cranmore Drive, Sligo, was libelled by the Sunday World in an article published on September 5, 1999.

The article nick-named him "The Shark" alleging that he was involved in money-lending as well as having masterminded the importation of the largest amount of cannabis and ecstasy into the west of Ireland in 1999.

The newspaper denied the claim and says the words complained of were true in substance and fact.

Following a five day trial, the jury was asked to decide whether the newspaper had proved that he was a drug dealer and a loan shark, to which they replied no.

On the basis of these answers, the jury, following two-and-a-quarter hours of deliberation, awarded him damages of €900,000 plus costs.

The jury was also asked whether the paper had proved Mr McDonagh was a tax evader and a criminal, to which they replied yes.

Mr McDonagh, who was accompanied by his wife and some of his children, hugged them after the verdict.

Speaking afterwards, a delighted Mr McDonagh said that he was "over the moon," with the verdict.

"I don't know what to say, other than justice has been done," Mr McDonagh, surrounded by family members, told reporters outside the Four Courts.

"None of my family were ever involved in drugs," he said.

Mr McDonagh, who said that he was unaware that the award was the highest ever payout awarded by a jury in a libel action said that bringing the case was not all about the money, adding that the verdict meant a lot to his family.

"We have our lives back," he stated.

The Sligo man said that his family had "built themselves up from nothing," but "certain people" had tried to take that away from them.

He said that he hoped more people come forward and bring actions like this. "Who is running the country? The Tabloid media?" he asked.

A source close to the Sunday World said that the planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

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