Football365 apologises to Martin O'Neill for 'idiot' claim

A football website has apologised and paid damages to Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill for the second time in less than a year.

O’Neill sued after Football365.com, a BSkyB-owned news and opinion site, published a reader’s comment headlined: “Martin O’Neill is a total idiot”.

The comment appeared in the site’s Mailbox section, where readers are encouraged to send “opinions, rants, praise or abuse”. They are moderated and edited before publication.

Football 365’s apology said: “On 25 July 2008, this column published readers’ comments under the headline: ‘Martin O’Neill is a total idiot’.

“The headline and the tenor of those comments accused O’Neill of acting in a spirit of bravado, behaving incompetently and against the interests of his club in the handling of the approach by Liverpool for the services of the Aston Villa and England midfielder, Gareth Barry.

“We now accept that these allegations are without foundation and ought not to have been published. Mr O’Neill conducted matters perfectly properly.

“We wish to offer our apologies to Mr O’Neill for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by the headline and the comments, and we have agreed to pay him a sum in compensation and his legal costs.”

Paul Hackney, of law firm Geldards, who represented O’Neill, told Press Gazette the headline – created by Football365’s staff – was particularly damaging.

“What would you think if your name appeared in this way?” he said.

The 365 Media Group – which includes Cricket365, Sportinglife and Planet Rugby, and was bought by BSkyB for £96m in 2006 – declined to comment further when contacted by Press Gazette.

Last April, O’Neill won damages from Football365 after it followed up a Daily Record story that accused him of “tapping-up” Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Football agent Anthony McGill won damages from the site, and the Record, for the same story.

O’Neill, 56, a former Wycombe Wanderers, Leicester City and Celtic manager, is no stranger to defamation cases.

As well as Football365, O’Neill has successfully sued the Daily Record, The Observer, and the Mail on Sunday in the past eight years.

In 2004, he also won damages from the BBC, after it falsely accused him of “a conflict of interests” due to his shares in a football agent company.

The O’Neill case is not the first time a website has been sued for user-generated comments.

In 2007, Mumsnet apologised to parenting expert Gina Ford, and paid some of her legal costs, after comments made on its forum.

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