Sinn Fein may appeal defamation verdict

December 22, 2012

By Christine Keighery

Lawyers for Sinn Fein are studying last week’s High Court verdict which found the party guilty of defaming the former director of Northern Ireland water, Declan Gormley.   Following the verdict, Mr Gormley was awarded damages of £80,000 and will also receive the full costs of his successful action, which could run into six figures

Mr Gormley issued libel proceedings against Sinn Fein and two of its representatives, MLA Cathal Boylan and former Assemblyman Willie Clarke, over the contents of press releases in 2011, supporting the decision to sack him.

Conor Murphy, Regional Development Minister at the time, removed the former director from the board along with three other non-executive directors from NI Water in March 2010, following an independent review team investigation into the awarding of contracts.

The investigation was subsequently criticised in a Stormont Public Accounts Committee report which questioned the independence of the review.

Mr Gormley, emphatically denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers claimed the press releases had damaged his reputation and were reckless and dishonest.

Sinn Fein contended that neither statement was defamatory and claimed a defence of qualified privilege, arguing that the press releases were in response to a campaign of attacks on Mr Murphy mounted by the SDLP with Mr Gormley’s collusion.

A the end of the three week trial , the jury found that the party had however acted with malice and Mr Justice Gillen also rejected a final defence of qualified journalism, ruling that no steps had been taken to try to verify the contents of the press releases before publishing them.

Speaking after last week’s verdict, Mr Gormley said,

“What happened to me was wrong. A jury of ordinary men and women have decided it was wrong and have awarded accordingly.

“It’s never been about the money, it’s always been about vindicating my reputation and good name.”

Sinn Fein released a statement following the trial, revealing their intention to consider appeal:

“(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.”