Belfast Telegraph

Hotelier Coulter to take libel battle to Supreme Court

By Alan Erwin

A hotelier referred to in a newspaper as "a Scrooge" appears set to take his libel battle to the UK's highest court in London.

Co Down businessman Gordon Coulter was yesterday refused leave to appeal a decision to set aside an award of £50,000 damages over the Sunday World article.

But his lawyers can now petition directly for a hearing at the Supreme Court in London.

Mr Coulter (85) sued the Sunday World over a report published after his hotel went into administration in December 2014.

He claimed it had portrayed him as callously discharging workers during the temporary closure of the Kilmorey Arms in Kilkeel.

His lawyers argued the newspaper's reference to "a Scrooge" meant he had money but out of meanness was not prepared to spend it to save the jobs at the hotel.

It has since reopened under new ownership.

Last year a High Court judge awarded £50,000 damages for what he held to be a serious libel of a respected businessman who had no other option but to put the company into administration.

But in February the newspaper won its appeal against the compensation ruling.

Lawyers for the Sunday World argued that the references to Scrooge were matters of comment rather than fact.

Senior judges agreed with their assertion that it was a figure of speech not to be taken literally.

The judges held that the order for damages should be set aside and directed a retrial of the action.

Counsel for Mr Coulter returned to the Court of Appeal today seeking permission to challenge its decision at the Supreme Court.

Refusing leave, Lord Justice Gillen stressed that cases are usually only referred on points of legal conflict.

He confirmed: "The practice is to leave the parties to appeal (directly) to the Supreme Court to decide if it is appropriate."

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