Judge orders teacher to pay jeweller €50,000 for defamation
A SCHOOLTEACHER has been directed by a judge to pay €50,000 damages to a jeweller he defamed.
It was the maximum that Judge Jacqueline Linnane could have awarded Breasal O'Caollai. He told her that what former friend and neighbour Michael O'Flaherty – a teacher at Loreto College, Foxrock, Co Dublin – had said about him could have ruined his business.
Mr O'Caollai, of Royal Terrace West, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, told the Circuit Civil Court that Mr O'Flaherty told staff in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, of which Mr O'Caollai was a director, that he had effectively taken money from the tills.
Barrister Michael Binchy, counsel for Mr O'Caollai, said that on three occasions Mr O'Flaherty, of Northumberland Avenue, Dun Laoghaire, had "made utterances which meant Mr O'Caollai was an incompetent businessman on the take and engaging in dishonest practices."
Mr Binchy said Mr O'Flaherty had asked museum staff Bianca Drumm and Linda Carroll "does Breasal take money from the coffee shop takings?" and "does he take cash from the tills?".
He had also suggested to another staff member that he "supposed Breasal had taken the proceeds" of an art exhibition.
Mr O'Caollai told the court he owned a jewellery shop in Northumberland Avenue, Dun Laoghaire, not far from Mr O'Flaherty's home. He had asked Mr O'Flaherty to help with the museum and he had been elected treasurer at an annual general meeting. They had been friends but eventually Mr O'Flaherty developed a grudge against him for some unknown reason. "He would just grunt when we passed on the street and I was dumbfounded when he suggested to the museum that I was a thief and a robber, which was totally outrageous."
Mr O'Caollai said there was absolutely no basis for the statements by Mr O'Flaherty that he had his hand in the till.
Mr O'Flaherty said he had been "aghast and astonished" when he had learned of the "complete fabrication" of the statements he was alleged to have made to Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll about Mr O'Caollai. None of them were true, he said.
He said that at one stage as treasurer he had recommended tighter control of funds and lodgments.
Judge Linnane, awarding Mr O'Caollai €50,000 damages, said Ms Drumm and Ms Carroll had no reason to fabricate or invent their account of what had happened.
She said that inferences had been cast on them by the defendant.