Tipperary engineer claims paper defamed him in court report

ireland
Tipperary Engineer Claims Paper Defamed Him In Court Report
Michael Reilly (62), of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, is suing Iconic Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Kilkenny People which published the article on February 9th, 2016.
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A civil engineer says he was defamed when a newspaper published a report on an uninsured driver convicted in the local court with the same name as him, a High Court jury has heard.

Michael Reilly (62), of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, is suing Iconic Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Kilkenny People which published the article on February 9th, 2016.

The paper denies defamation and says it was an entirely fair and accurate report of the court proceedings which also attracts legal privilege.

Frank Callanan SC, opening Mr Reilly's case, said the paper's report stated "Michael Reilly, Ballycullen, Mullinahone" had received a three-month suspended sentence at Kilkenny District Court for driving without insurance, fined €750 and banned from driving for six years.

This was not his client, counsel said, who is the only Michael Reilly in Ballycullen, Mullinahone.

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It caused him and his family huge distress and also caused damage to his reputation, he said.

He was effectively described as a criminal and there was another Michael Reilly who was convicted and who was not Michael Reilly of Ballycullen, Mullinahone.

Counsel said his client was a professional person and the idea of driving without insurance has a particular stigma.

Legal privilege

There is legal privilege attaching to court reports and the principles governing that privilege will be potentially significant in this case particularly in relation to whether the address of Ballycullen, Mullinahone, was read out during the court proceedings or whether it was something picked up afterwards from a file by the District Court journalist, he said.

In evidence, Mr Reilly told his counsel he had lived all his life in Mullinahone where everyone knows everyone else.

He was on a mini-break with his partner in France when he first became aware of the Kilkenny People report. He said he could not believe it at first and contacted his solicitor Mark Walsh in Ireland to check the report in the paper.

When he got home, there were incidents when he experienced hostility including once at Easter from a barman in a pub who asked him how come he was driving.

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A month later during lunch at a restaurant he got a similar reception. He said remarks were made about how come he was driving without insurance and that "a cheap Merc will be up for sale soon".

He said "even people I know said to me if you were stuck for money why did you not contact me".

Professional reputation

Asked by his counsel to explain the impact it had on his professional reputation, he said in the world he came from driving without insurance is considered very seriously and such people are "treated like pariahs".

He said neighbours make it very clear that behaviour is not expected and "though nobody stops you on the street to say they are not going to employ you because you are a lawbreaker, they just don't employ you".

He also said his brother "got comments" and his father, who was still alive at the time, was very distressed over it.

He said he had never in his life been convicted of any driving offences including getting a speeding ticket.

Apology sought

The court heard that through his solicitor he sought an apology and compensation for damage to his reputation. The paper offered to print certain versions of a clarification which were not acceptable and no compensation was offered.

The paper insisted it was a fair and accurate report. Its first clarification offered to say the report did not refer to well-known civil engineer Michael Reilly but another Michael Reilly, also of Ballycullen, Mullinahone.

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Mr Reilly told the court this was "a double slap in the mouth" because they were saying it was not Michael Reilly, the engineer, of Ballycullen, "when everyone knows there is only one Michael Relly in Ballycullen.

"It was pure nonsense and it wasn't an apology".

Further correspondence followed between Mr Reilly's solicitor and the paper and legal proceedings were later brought.

The case continues before the jury and Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds.

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