Friday 24 February 2017

'Strong circumstantial evidence that man was a dealer,' court told

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Martin McDonagh had sued the ‘Sunday World’ for damages. Photo: Courts Collins
Martin McDonagh had sued the ‘Sunday World’ for damages. Photo: Courts Collins

There was significant circumstantial evidence that a man who sued the 'Sunday World' for libel was a drug importer, a lawyer for the newspaper has told the Supreme Court.

The submission by Eoin McCullough SC was made as the seven-judge court reserved judgment on whether the Court of Appeal was correct when it overturned a €900,000 award against the newspaper.

Sligo man Martin McDonagh sued the 'Sunday World' for damages arising out of an article published in 1999 entitled 'Traveller Drug King'.

It was published while he was in custody being questioned about a major haul of ecstasy and cannabis in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, but he was later released without charge.

A High Court jury found he had been libelled in 2008 and awarded him €900,000.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned the verdict last year, describing it as "perverse" as evidence in the trial pointed "overwhelmingly" to the conclusion that McDonagh was a drug dealer associated with the seizure. It ordered a retrial on a separate allegation that McDonagh was a loan shark.

Appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court, lawyers for McDonagh argued the jury verdict "should not have been touched".

Declan Doyle SC said although his client had admitted being in the company of people involved in drug dealing, that did not make him a drug dealer.

But Mr McCullough said McDonagh had given no explanation for a trip to London days before the seizure where he met a man who was later convicted in connection with the drug haul. "I agree that it is not direct visual evidence of the plaintiff importing the drugs, but the Court of Appeal took it into account as extremely strong circumstantial evidence," Mr McCullough said.

There was no explanation as to how McDonagh came to organise the trip to London. Neither was there an effective challenge to Garda evidence during the trial, counsel said.

Mr McCullough said McDonagh had denied being a criminal or a tax cheat, but accepted he was when confronted with evidence.

"He claimed in evidence the Criminal Assets Bureau had never accused him of drug dealing until evidence was put in front of him," he said.

The barrister said the Court of Appeal was correct when it determined the High Court verdict was one no reasonable jury could have come to.

After hearing the submissions, Chief Justice Susan Denham said the court would deliver its judgment at a later date.

Irish Independent

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