Irish paper forced to apologise to 'revolting pervert'

Ireland’s Star Sunday newspaper has been fined 40,000 euros for contempt of court after a judge found that deliberately republished a libel about a man convicted of possessing child pornography.

Judge Joseph Matthews, sitting in the Circuit Civil Court in Dublin, fined Independent Star Ltd after an application by claimant Barry Watters, who is still serving a prison sentence for the child porn offence.

Watters sued the Star Sunday for libel and early in November won a “declaration of falsity” from the court, which also ordered the newspaper to publish an apology.

He brought the action under Ireland’s Defamation Act 2009, which allows a court to make a declaration of falsity if it believes the defendant in a libel action has no prospect of being able to defend a claim.

The newspaper had reported the declaration of falsity by publishing Watters’ picture alongside a headline reading: “We may have to apologise to this revolting pervert … Will we mean it? Hell no.”

Watters then applied to the court to have the newspaper’s assets sequestered and editor Des Gibson jailed for contempt.

The Irish Independent reported that Judge Matthews imposed the fine on 13 December, when he also directed Star Sunday to publish a correction of defamatory statements it made about Watters, and to publish a fair summary of the original judgment in which he found that Watters was defamed which should be given equal half-page prominence as the initial defamatory article.

Barrister Hugh Mohan SC, for Mr Watters, had told the judge that the newspaper committed contempt of court by repeating its libel of his client

Judge Mathews had held in early November that the newspaper defamed Mr Watters by stating he had developed a “weird” and “seedy” close relationship while in Arbour Hill Prison with “another twisted pervert – the Beast of Baltinglass, convicted rapist Larry Murphy” – suggesting homosexual ties, which Watters has consistently denied.

Eoin McCullough SC, the newspaper’s counsel, said the contempt was unintentional – while the newspaper intended to publish what it had published, it had not known it was a contempt to do so, the Irish Independent reported.

Star Sunday was anxious to make clear to the court that it was sorry for what it had done. It had not intended to repeat the libel and apologised both to the court and to Watters, he said, adding that since the defamation was the first to have been dealt with under the new 2009 Defamation Act, it was appropriate for the court to restrict punishment to a fine.

Judge Mathews said he accepted the apology, the Irish Independent said.

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