Belfast Telegraph

Newspaper appeal over £50k award to former hotel owner

By Angela Rainey

An appeal by Sunday News Limited will be launched today at Belfast's High Court against a £50,000 defamation payout to a former hotel owner.

Legal action was brought against the Sunday World newspaper by Robert James Gordon Coulter following an article about the closure of his hotel, The Kilmorey Arms Hotel, in Kilkeel, Co Down, in 2014.

Mr Justice Stephens presided alone over the original two-day hearing in January 2016.

Judgment was reserved and delivered on August 8, 2016 when Mr Coulter was awarded the damages at the High Court.

Representatives for the Sunday World claim the payout was excessive and the story was in the public interest as the hotel employed more than 30 people from the area around the hotel.

It will also refute claims that it likened Mr Coulter to a derogatory fictional character in a well-known Christmas story, insisting it merely reported the direct quotes given by the upset staff.

When the hotel went into administration one week before Christmas in 2014, members of staff contacted the paper asking it to run a story on their plight.

In line with ethical recommendations set out by Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) in the Editor's Code, which regulates the newspaper industry, the paper's defence will also claim it acted within the guidelines by offering Mr Coulter an opportunity to respond.

Today's hearing, led by lawyers Richard Coughlin and Gavin Millar QC, is summarised in court papers as: "This is an appeal in a libel case arising out of a short news article published by the Appellant in the Sunday World on 21 December 2014 ("the article")."

Legal experts will argue "the assessment of compensation was disproportionate and excessive".

It will attempt to appeal the decision using the Reynold's Defence which allows a media outlet to report an allegation, even if it turns out to be false, provided the journalist acted ethically in reporting the information.

According to court papers of the original hearing, the payout was awarded on the basis that "the libel was serious in the context of the plaintiff's community. The newspaper had an extensive circulation. It had a serious impact on the plaintiff's feelings".

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