Sinn Fein may appeal £80k libel
Lawyers studying verdict of defamation case, says party
Published 18/12/2012 | 00:00
Sinn Fein may appeal a High Court verdict that it defamed a former director of Northern Ireland Water who was yesterday awarded damages of £80,000.
Declan Gormley who a jury decided was libelled in two separate Press releases, will also receive full costs of his successful action, which are believed to run into six figures.
Mr Gormley sued the party over the contents of the Press releases issued in 2011 in support of his sacking from the NI Water board.
Sinn Fein denied the Press releases were defamatory, but last week a jury found the party to have acted with malice.
At the end of the three-week trial yesterday the businessman — who was removed from the board of NI Water by former Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy along with three other non-executive directors — said it had never been about the money.
“What happened to me was wrong. A jury of ordinary men and women have decided it was wrong and have awarded accordingly,” he said. “It's never been about the money, it's always been about vindicating my reputation and good name.”
But a Sinn Fein statement said: “(We) will study this verdict in detail with our legal representatives and examine all options available to us going forward, including the possibility of appeal.”
The judge, Mr Justice Gillen, ruled no steps had been taken to verify the content of the Press releases before they were issued by the party.
In court yesterday the jury was warned against awarding too high a payout, with the judge telling them: “Keep your feet on the ground.”
Counsel for Sinn Fein argued that the defamation merited only a modest award due to the limited circulation of the Press releases.
But Mr Gormley's barrister, David Dunlop, said the party issued the statements to around 200 news outlets in the hope of gaining widespread publicity for them.
He pointed out how the damages were for the distress suffered by Mr Gormley and to repair the harm to his reputation, adding that Sinn Fein had not yet apologised.
Instead, there had been “a bull-headed, unreasonable and unjustified persistence in maintaining the party line” throughout the trial, said Mr Dunlop.
Ex-Sinn Fein Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy axed Declan Gormley and three other non-executive directors from the board of Northern Ireland Water in March 2010. This followed an independent review which probed the awarding of contracts. But the Public Accounts Committee criticised the inquiry and questioned its independence.