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County manager wins ?38,000 for 'outrageous' libel

A COUNTY Manager, who was libelled by a local newspaper in a "most outrageous way" was yesterday awarded maximum damages of ?38,000 yesterday.

Donegal County Manager Michael McLoone took the action against the 'Donegal Democrat' and Donegal People's Press newspapers over a series of articles, editorials and letters published between September 2002 and January 2003 which alleged he was part of a 'golden circle' of corruption operating within the Planning Department of Donegal County Council.

Yesterday, on the third day of the hearing at Letterkenny Circuit Court, the defence withdrew its case and issued an unreserved apology to Michael McLoone and his family.

Judge Pat McCartan then awarded ?38,000 in damages to the County Manager - the maximum available in the Circuit Court.

A further ?30,000 in damages was awarded to County Secretary, Eunan Sweeney, who was libelled in one of the articles. Costs were awarded against the newspaper in both cases.

Judge McCartan expressed surprise that the newspaper had relied "exclusively and unquestioningly" on the evidence of a former senior planning official Gerard Convie, who had been removed from office because of his involvement in a planning controversy.

He said he was satisfied from the evidence that Michael McLoone was a long standing and highly regarded public official who had been "maligned in a most outrageous way" by the newspaper.

There was nothing more outrageous that could be said about a public official than to say that he was corrupt, the judge said.

The paper had failed to substantiate suggestions that former employee of Donegal County Council, senior planner Gerard Convie, had been removed because he did not fit into a 'golden circle'.Michael McLoone, who broke down in the witness box when describing his shock at reading the first of the articles, pointed to 16 ways in which he had been libelled by the articles.They included suggestions that he was involved in or permitted serious planning irregularities, corruption and political interference in the planning process.

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