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Court rules Leech to get €750,000 ahead of libel appeal

COMMUNICATIONS consultant Monica Leech is to be paid €750,000 pending the hearing of an appeal against her €1.8m libel award over articles about her in the 'Evening Herald', the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The court also affirmed a High Court order that she receive €100,000 towards her legal costs pending the appeal.

The decision arose out of an appeal by Independent Newspapers, publishers of the 'Evening Herald', seeking a stay on High Court Judge Eamon deValera's decision allowing the paper to appeal only on the basis that Ms Leech should get the €750,000 part-payment of the award.

It followed last month's record award to her by a jury, in a majority verdict, that a series of 'Evening Herald' articles in 2004 meant Ms Leech was having an affair with then Environment Minister Martin Cullen.

Independent Newspapers had sought a stay on the part-payment of the €1.8m award until the appeal was heard.

Rejecting the stay application, Chief Justice John Murray, along with Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan and Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, said the appeal was only on the grounds of quantum of damages and there was no argument of a point of law.

The High Court judge had exercised his discretion in relation to the amount of damages which should be paid out pending appeal, the chief justice said. The court was also satisfied Independent Newspapers had not shown that Ms Leech could not repay the money if she lost at appeal stage.

The court was satisfied the parties were in "a situation of parity on the balance of justice", the chief justice said. The court heard there was now no dispute between the parties as to liability but what was at issue was the amount of damages.

Eoin McCullough, for Independent Newspapers, said the award was excessive and disproportionate. He based his arguments on previous Supreme Court findings setting aside of libel awards to MEP Proinsias de Rossa and businessman Denis O'Brien as disproportionate. They were €380,000 and €320,000 respectively.



Suffered

There was, therefore, a strong possibility that an appeal court would interfere with the Leech award, particularly where there had been a "paucity" of evidence as to what losses she had suffered, Mr McCullough added.

Ms Leech had received a total of €375,000 in two libel actions she had settled with RTE and Associated Newspapers, he said.

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But Paul O'Higgins, for Ms Leech, said the scale of the libel in this was unlike the De Rossa and O'Brien cases in that it concerned a number of articles and not just one.

The jury was entitled to come to the decision it did in that the paper set out to destroy Ms Leech's reputation, he added.


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