Friday 18 October 2019

Company asks court to overturn record €10m libel award to naked sleepwalker

Former Deputy Chairman of Kenmare Resources, Donal Kinsella arriving at Court for his High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts
Former Deputy Chairman of Kenmare Resources, Donal Kinsella arriving at Court for his High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A company is appealing a record €10m libel award to its former deputy chairman who sleep-walked naked to the bedroom of a colleague.

Counsel for Kenmare Resources told the Court of Appeal that it was “obscene” to say a defamation of this nature was worth over 20 times an injury that would cause someone to be a quadriplegic for the rest of their life.

The finding of defamation of Donal Kinsella, and particularly the size of the award, has done “a great injustice” to the company, Paul Gallagher SC, for Kenmare, said.

The €10m libel award is the highest in the history of the State and Mr Gallagher said he was unaware of any similar award in the UK or another European country.

The award was made in 2010 after a High Court jury found Mr Kinsella was defamed in a company press release issued on July 10, 2007, concerning an incident in Mozambique in May of that year.

Company figures were in the African country for a board meeting when Mr Kinsella sleep-walked naked to the bedroom of company secretary Deirdre Corcoran. The press release referred to an “incident” and said Mr Kinsella was asked to resign from the company’s audit committee.

An investigation by an independent solicitor on behalf of the company found there was no conscious attempt on Mr Kinsella’s part to enter Ms Corcoran’s room and no improper motive in opening her door. Mr Kinsella was prone to sleep-walking.

Mr Kinsella sued the company and its chairman Charles Carvill.

In its verdict, the jury found the press release wrongly meant Mr Kinsella had made inappropriate advances to Ms Corcoran.

Kenmare Resources has appealed both that finding and the level of the award, comprising €9m in compensatory damages and €1m aggravated damages.

A sum of €500,000 has been paid to Mr Kinsella, plus €200,000 in costs, but a stay applies on the remainder pending the appeal outcome.

Mr Kinsella, now aged in his mid-70s, was in court accompanied by family members.

In opposing the appeal, Eoin McCullough SC, for Mr Kinsella, said the trial judge had made “perfectly adequate” directions on the crucial issues in the case. He said, as a result of the press release, damaging stories about Mr Kinsella were circulated across the world.

Declan Doyle SC, also for Mr Kinsella, said this was a “very serious” defamation involving a very serious allegation of improper sexual advances to a “junior employee”.

When Ms Justice Irvine asked was Ms Corcoran not a company secretary, Mr Doyle agreed she was but said she was a person with “less clout” than Mr Kinsella.

The press release resulted in Mr Kinsella being made an “international laughing stock”, he said.

While accepting the €10m award was “extraordinarily high”, that must be seen in the context of Mr Kinsella’s reputation in Irish business and society, and the impact of the matter on him, he said.

In reply, Mr Gallagher said Mr Kinsella was not that well known in business circles and there was no evidence before the jury as to the effect on his business.

Judgment in the case was reserved.

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