‘The Sun’ paid man to make Louis Walsh sex claim – court
A BRITISH tabloid tried to "take out Louis Walsh as a public person" by paying a man to make a false sex assault allegation, it was claimed in court.
The High Court heard that Leonard Watters allegedly met 'The Sun' journalist Joanne McElgunn for dinner where she offered to pay him if he made a complaint to gardai "about being assaulted" in a nightclub toilet.
Watters (24), from Navan, Co Meath, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment last January after pleading guilty to making two false reports to gardai that Mr Walsh sexually assaulted him in a toilet in Dublin's Krystle nightclub on April 9 last year.
'X Factor' judge Mr Walsh is suing Newsgroup Newspapers, publishers of 'The Sun', for defamation over an article it published on June 23 last.
The paper accepted the accusation was false but denied defamation and said it acted fairly and reasonably in relation to the publication.
Mr Walsh is now seeking access to documents which will allegedly show that 'The Sun' offered to pay Watters to make the complaint which turned out to be false.
The documents, it was also claimed in the High Court yesterday, will show 'The Sun' paid €700 to Watters and promised to make more payments to him before a journalist accompanied him to a garda station where he made his false complaint against Mr Walsh
Senior counsel Jim O'Callaghan, for Mr Walsh, told the court that 'The Sun' had "directed the operation to take out Louis Walsh as a public person".
It was claimed that Ms McElgunn met Watters, then travelled to Pearse Street garda station in Dublin so that the complaint could be made.
It was alleged that Watters met up again with Ms McElgunn five days later and he was "encouraged and enticed by her, on behalf of the defendant, to repeat the false statements to her" for publication in 'The Sun'.
Mr Walsh claimed Ms McElgunn, on behalf of the paper, paid Watters €700 and promised further payments after the story was printed.
On a subsequent unknown date, Ms McElgunn booked him into a hotel in Dublin in order to secure further false statements about Mr Walsh and to ensure he did not take his false story to rival publications, he claimed.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill reserved judgment on an application by Mr Walsh's lawyers for disclosure of documents in the possession of 'The Sun', including those in relation to the false allegations.
The documents include anything suggesting payments or offers of payments made to Watters, the booking of a hotel room, expenses claimed by Ms McElgunn between June 15 and December 15, 2011, and cash withdrawals from her bank account of more than €200 between those dates.
The court heard that the deputy editor of the 'Irish Sun', Paul Clarkson, had sworn an affidavit arguing that disclosing these documents would jeopardise the important function of protecting journalistic sources and confidential information.
Mr Clarkson pointed out that Watters was not named in their original story and also said the documents in question may tend to identify other people in relation to other articles.
Mr O'Callaghan argued there could be no question in this case of protecting a source because Mr Watters had already been publicly named.
In the lead-up to the publication of the story, Mr Walsh's personal representative was told by 'Sun' journalists that the information they had in relation to the false accusation had come from the gardai. If that was true, it would have meant the gardai were committing a criminal offence and if not, it was a serious matter for a newspaper, Mr O'Callaghan said.
Gary Compton, for the newspaper, said it was essential for press freedom that people could come forward to journalists with information which they knew would be treated in confidence.