Wednesday 26 October 2016

RTE facing third legal action over 'abuse' show

'Mission to Prey' programme has cost €2m so far in legal settlements

Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30

RTE PAYOUTS: Richard Burke
RTE PAYOUTS: Richard Burke
RTE PAYOUTS: Dolores Atwood with her husband, Chris Atwood

RTE could be facing further legal bills from the Mission to Prey programme that has already clocked up an estimated bill of €2m in costs, fees and fines for the state broadcaster.

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The broadcaster settled a legal action last week taken by former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke, who claimed he was defamed in the Prime Time documentary at a cost of €338,000.

While RTE did not pay him damages, the Sunday Independent has learnt that the broadcaster has agreed to pay €275,000 towards Richard Burke's legal fees, plus €53,000 in VAT. RTE had said it made a "contribution" to his costs, but Mr Burke's lawyer said his client had "no exposure" to costs.

It was the second settlement arising from the Prime Time Mission to Prey programme, broadcast in 2011. Fr Kevin Reynolds had already received a confidential settlement - rumoured to be more than €1m between damages and legal fees - when he sued over false accusations that he raped a Kenyan teenager and fathered her child.

A third cleric, Bishop Philip Sulumeti, from Kenya, also instigated legal action against the broadcaster, claiming that he too was defamed in the programme. Robert Dore, the solicitor who acted for Fr Kevin Reynolds and for the former Archbishop Burke, is also representing Bishop Sulumeti.

Bishop Sulumeti has claimed that his inclusion in the Mission to Prey programme damaged his good name and his reputation. He was depicted as defending Fr Reynolds, whom RTE had wrongly accused of rape.

Although there has been no court activity since he started proceedings in 2012, Bishop Sulumeti's case remains listed on the High Court database but there is no date for a hearing. Robert Dore declined to comment this weekend.

The Mission to Prey documentary, which was less than an hour long, is estimated to have cost the station not far off €2m. The figure includes the rumoured €1m settlement to Fr Reynolds, and his legal fees - around €120,000 - plus RTE's own legal costs in the case. It also had to pay a €200,000 fine imposed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The fees and costs arising out of Richard Burke's legal action are thought to be at least €500,000, when RTE's own legal costs are taken into account.

The deal was reached on Thursday, seven days into Mr Burke's defamation case against RTE.

Richard Burke (66), a priest with the Kiltegan Fathers, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, alleged that he was defamed in the documentary which, he claimed, depicted him as a paedophile in recounting his relationship with a Nigerian woman, Dolores Atwood.

RTE denied this.

Richard Burke spent three days in the witness box giving evidence in the case about his time as priest, later bishop and archbishop, in Nigeria, and his relationship with Dolores Atwood, who came from a Muslim family in Nigeria.

He said that he had his first sexual encounter with Dolores Atwood when she was 20 and he was 40. He agreed that he had had sexual encounters with other women too, including with a married mother of eight in Nigeria. He admitted "embracing" and improperly touching Ms Atwood's sister.

Dolores Atwood took the stand on Wednesday morning, outlining how she became friendly with Richard Burke when she began attending a local Catholic church in her early teens. She alleged that when she was recovering from typhoid fever in hospital when she was 13, Mr Burke molested her.

Ms Atwood was asked to pause her evidence 30 minutes after she began her testimony as barristers engaged in legal argument. On Thursday morning, Paul O'Higgins, senior counsel for RTE, told Judge Iseult O'Malley that the case was settled.

In a statement afterwards, RTÉ accepted that Richard Burke had not "declined to be interviewed" as was stated on the Prime Time programme and apologised. But on the central allegation, it said Dolores Atwood was standing by her allegations and RTE considered her to be a "sincere" and "honourable" person. However, the broadcaster also acknowledged that Richard Burke had always vehemently denied the allegations.

Robert Dore said his client had "consistently and vehemently denied the accusations" and the litigation "has been compromised to my client's satisfaction, and he has no exposure to costs".

Mr Burke resigned as Archbishop of Benin over his failure to adhere to his celibacy vows. He remains a member of the Kiltegan Fathers.

Sunday Independent

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