Jamie Bryson claims property developer's Daithi McKay legal action 'attempt to expose his sources'
Businessman Paddy Kearney says ex-MLA conspired against him at Nama inquiry
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson has claimed legal action by leading property developer Paddy Kearney on ex-Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay is a "legal trick" to attempt to expose his sources.
The Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed the businessman is suing the former North Antrim Assembly man for allegedly unlawfully conspiring against him with Mr Bryson.
In the landmark legal action, the businessman is accusing Mr McKay of damaging his personal and business reputation and causing him financial loss.
The writ was forwarded to lawyers acting for the former politician, who just last week announced that he had quit Sinn Fein, on Wednesday.
Mr McKay resigned as an MLA in August amid allegations that he set up a back channel on Twitter to "coach" Mr Bryson shortly before the loyalist gave evidence to the Nama inquiry of Stormont's finance committee, which the Sinn Fein man chaired.
When contacted about the legal development Mr McKay declined to comment.
However, Jamie Bryson issued a statement in response to the Belfast Telegraph exclusive.
He claimed the action was an attempt to expose his sources and said he would use "journalistic privilege" to protect their identities.
When challenged that journalistic privileged was not recognised by courts, Mr Bryson said there was relevant case law on the protection of journalistic material under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
His statement added: "[Mr Kearney's lawyer Paul Tweed] claimed, in this mornings Belfast Telegraph, that he would be vigorously pursing litigation on behalf of his client, Mr Paddy Kearney.
"This appears, to me, to be at odds with the evidence before us. Mr Tweed is litigating around the core issue.
"The key issue here is that Mr Kearney needs to find a way to get to my original sources. I believe suing Daithi McKay is a clever legal trick designed to open the door to allow Mr Tweed to seek to have me compelled to give evidence, and reveal my sources.
"If Mr Tweed wants to 'vigorously litigate' this matter then he knows, and I know, that they will eventually have to battle this out with me in court.
" I will claim journalistic privilege and refuse to reveal my sources. They will claim I am not covered by journalistic privilege. The battle lines are clear for all to see.
"Instead of running around the outskirts of the battle, trying to pick off those who really had no involvement, I challenge Mr Tweed, Mr Kearney- and those in cahoots with them - to step onto the battlefield.
"If they want a courtroom war, then they can have one. Stop running away, and picking off soft targets as you go."
Mr Tweed has been contacted for a response.
It is understood that Mr Kearney's legal team has not ruled out action against others who may have been involved in what it describes as "totally unfounded and unjustified personal attacks on our client's hard-earned reputation".
Claims that the Sinn Fein MLA "coached" Mr Bryson emerged as Twitter messages between the loyalist, Mr McKay, and another Sinn Fein member, Thomas O'Hara, were leaked in August.
In the writ, which was lodged in Belfast High Court on Tuesday evening, Mr Kearney claims that through "unlawful conspiracy" and "acts of targeted malice" against him, Mr McKay is "guilty of misfeasance in public office".
The writ alleges that Mr McKay "unlawfully conspired" with Mr Bryson by "emails, texts and social media messages" to manipulate the finance committee so that the loyalist's evidence could be heard in open session.
It also alleges that he damaged Mr Kearney's personal and business reputation through the "publication of libels and malicious falsehoods and through the provision of false evidence to the committee of Jamie Bryson" on September 23, 2015.
The property developer appeared before the finance committee six weeks later in order to challenge the loyalist's allegations. The writ alleges that at this meeting on November 4, 2015, Mr McKay facilitated "the false and misleading questioning" of Mr Kearney.
It claims: "The defendant by his participation in the unlawful conspiracy and by acts of targeted malice perpetrated against the plaintiff was further guilty of misfeasance in public office."
While evidence given to a Stormont committee is normally protected by parliamentary privilege - meaning the speaker can't be sued for defamation - alleging malicious intent, as Mr Kearney appears to have done, opens up the way for legal proceedings.
In a statement last night to the Belfast Telegraph the property developer's solicitor Paul Tweed confirmed that a writ had been issued against Mr McKay "in relation to the damage caused to our client's reputation and consequential financial and other loss suffered by him".
Mr Tweed added: "We have been instructed to vigorously pursue this litigation. We are actively considering further legal proceedings against other potential parties in relation to what have been totally unfounded and unjustified personal attacks on our client's hard-earned reputation built over many years during which he supported and created much-needed employment for the Northern Irish economy."
Mr Kearney (62) is a former joiner from west Belfast who became one of Northern Ireland's leading property developers.
Mr Bryson alleged that Peter Robinson exerted undue influence to secure a favourable "sweetheart deal" for him when he moved to refinance his Nama-controlled loans after they were bought by US investment firm Cerberus.
But the property developer rejected these allegations as "unfounded" and "scurrilous".
He said that all his dealings had been totally transparent.
One of the so-called Maple Ten investors, his company Kilmona Holdings owns the Belfast boutique hotel Ten Square.
Mr Kearney's previous projects include high-profile shopping centres in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
He is planning to develop a series of huge office buildings across Belfast in coming years. Kilmona is starting a £50m development beside Central Station in the Market area of the city. It will build around 300,000sq ft of office space, spread across four blocks.
Appearing before Stormont’s Nama inquiry, chaired by Daithi McKay, Jamie Bryson claims that five deal-fixers had been due to share a £7m fee transferred into an Isle of Man bank account.
Using parliamentary privilege, he alleges that one of the beneficiaries was to be Peter Robinson. Mr Robinson and the other four men named deny the claims.
The loyalist also alleged that the then DUP First Minister exerted undue influence to secure a favourable “sweetheart deal” for property developer Paddy Kearney when he moved to refinance his Nama-controlled loans after they were bought by US investment firm Cerberus.
Mr Kearney appears before the committee to deny Mr Bryson’s allegations.
He maintains that he did not receive preferential treatment from Cerberus or Nama. He claims to have been the victim of “unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations” and “unwarranted personal attacks”.
He says he approached Peter Robinson to seek assistance in dealing with Nama whom he claims tried to “intimidate, frighten and bribe” him into handing over control of his company.
Mr Kearney insists there was nothing “improper or sinister” about his contact with the First Minister who has been “unfairly criticised” for doing his job.
The Irish News publishes leaked Twitter messages between Daithi McKay, fellow Sinn Fein member Thomas O’Hara and Jamie Bryson which were exchanged before the loyalist gave evidence to the Nama inquiry.
Appearing before the Finance Committee, Mairtin O Muilleoir says he is “totally chill-axed” over attempts to link him to the controversy.
Daithi McKay tells the Belfast Telegraph that he wasn’t scapegoated to protect a more senior party figure.