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Articles not about Denis O'Brien - 'Post' editor

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Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg

Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg

Businessman Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg

Former 'Sunday Business Post' ('SBP') editor Ian Kehoe has told a High Court jury articles in the newspaper in March 2015 were not about businessman Denis O'Brien but about Ireland, and a report that "cast a lie" about what the banks were telling everyone at the time of the financial crash in 2008.

Mr O'Brien has sued Post Publications, publisher of the 'SBP', claiming the articles wrongly meant he was among a "gang" of 22 borrowers who "wrecked the country" and they defamed him and injured his reputation.

The defence denies those meanings, defamation or malicious publication and has pleaded "fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest".

Yesterday, Mr Kehoe said he and journalist Tom Lyons had discussed leaving Mr O'Brien out of the articles but decided he had to be left in because he was named in the report, given by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to the government in November 2008, as among the 22 biggest borrowers with Irish banks in 2008.

There was an "immense fear factor" across the media around anything to do with Mr O'Brien and anything involving him had to "go through me" and lawyers, he said. When Mr O'Brien's name was mentioned, it was like being "in a fire station with a light going around and around".

"He is the only person in that category," he told his counsel Michael McDowell SC.

He and Mr Lyons had discussed, in the interests of a "quiet life", leaving Mr O'Brien out but decided it was "not our job to doctor a government report".

Core journalistic values mean treating all reports and individuals fairly, Mr O'Brien was named because he was one of the 22 named in the report and the articles also reported Mr O'Brien had paid all his debts, he said.

Asked why not anonymise all 22, he said he got into journalism because he believes in transparency and informing people what is going on.

This story was about a report that showed how fundamentally the banks misled PwC at the time of the bank guarantee in September 2008, he said.

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The PwC report showed an immense concentration of debt in a small group of people "who could have been the best or worst borrowers". It was not about Mr O'Brien or any other of the 22 individuals but about Ireland, Irish banks and why even now investment is not being put into areas "that so badly need it".

The story was of "immense public and national importance", he and Mr Lyons were fully engaged with it, he himself read the entire PwC report and went through the articles to ensure they were correct.

He had not discussed the story with the company's then chairman, Conor Killeen.

The case resumes on Tuesday.


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