Saturday 3 December 2016

'Irish Daily Star' journalist to give evidence in 'phone in bra' case

Published 25/06/2015 | 18:10

Judge's gavel.
Judge's gavel.

IRISH Daily Star journalist Michael O'Toole will have to give evidence in a High Court case, a judge ruled.

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However, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said Mr O'Toole will not have to reveal his confidential sources.

His evidence is required as part of a damages action brought by a teacher who was found to have a mobile telephone in her bra strap when going through a security check at the Mountjoy Prison Complex.

Katherine Boyle, Donagher's Lane, Prosperous, Co Kildare, is suing the Governor of St Patrick's Institution, Irish Prison Services, Minister for Justice and the State arising from an incident that occurred on September 3, 2008.

At that time Ms Boyle, an employee of Dublin VEC had taught in the prison system for 15 years and was teaching at St Patrick's institution for young offenders.

She claims she forgot she had the phone on her, but as a result of the incident, her security clearance allowing her enter the prison, was revoked. She has not worked in the prison system since an investigation was launched into the matter.

As part of her action Ms Boyle's lawyers subpoenaed Mr O'Toole about an article he wrote in the Star on September 9, 2008 headlined: “Phone In Bra Jail Smuggler busted”.

Ms Boyle claims the article distorted what had occurred and breached her rights including to privacy, fair procedures and to be employed freely within the State. The Prison Service should not have disclosed material to the media, she claims.

Lawyers for Mr O'Toole  argued he should not be compelled to give evidence on grounds including that his testimony would be irrelevant.

If compelled the journalist would only be able to confirm the article as "a matter of record" and would not identify any source of the article.

Mr Justice Barr said the court had to "carefully balance the interests for and against disclosure of the journalists' sources."

He said it seemed to him that even if Mr O'Toole is allowed to keep confidential his sources for the article in question Ms Boyle's lawyers will still be in a position to to mount an argument to the effect that the information in the article was, on the balance of probability, leaked by somebody on behalf of the defendants.

Depriving Ms Boyle of the identity of the source of the article will not be fatal to her establishing in evidence the allegations contained in her claim, he said.

In the circumstances, it seemed to him the interests of Mr O'Toole in asserting journalistic privilege outweigh the interests of Ms Boyle in having the sources revealed.

Mr O'Toole need not reveal his confidential sources for the article but must bring to court copies of his notes and memos concerning the article.

He can redact any parts that would tend to identify his source or sources, the judge said.

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