Saturday 21 September 2019

Jury in Paudie Coffey defamation action fail to reach verdict

11/12/2018 Paudie Coffey, pictured leaving the Four Courts after the jury failed to reach a verdict in his High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts
11/12/2018 Paudie Coffey, pictured leaving the Four Courts after the jury failed to reach a verdict in his High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

The jury in the High Court defamation action by former junior minister Paudie Coffey has failed to reach a verdict.

Following nearly 11 hours of deliberation over two days, the foreman of the jury of eight men and four women said they were unable to reach a majority verdict.

Before they were sent home on Friday, they were told by Mr Justice Bernard Barton they could reach a minimum majority verdict of nine to three.

When they returned on Tuesday, they spent nearly six more hours deliberating after which the foreman told the court they were unable to reach a verdict.

The foreman also said there was "no prospect of us reaching a majority verdict, you honour".

They were asked to retire for a few more minutes so the judge could consult with lawyers for both sides about the next step.

When the jury returned, the judge said it was the end of more than three weeks in their lives but they could well understand the parties would like them to reach a verdict. The consequences would be the case would have to go before a new jury.

He said they would not be the first jury to fail to reach a verdict but the parties had asked if they were afforded any further time to discuss whether or not they would they reach a verdict.

The foreman asked for a couple of minutes to discuss it.

Twenty-five minutes later, they returned and the foreman said they would still not be able to reach a verdict.

Mr Justice Barton thanked them and excused them from jury service for the next five years.

The judge adjourned the case to a future list to fix jury trial dates and said costs will be dealt with in next case.

The case, which took place over 13 days, and centred on the newspaper's use of a press release from Mr Coffey's FG Carlow-Kilkenny colleague, John Paul Phelan.

Mr Coffey was a Waterford TD and junior environment minister at the time and claimed the article was a major factor in him losing his Dail seat over a month later.  

The press release was issued over a dispute about a commission which was looking at moving the administrative boundary of Waterford into Kilkenny, a highly contentious issue among south Kilkenny people.

The release said Mr Coffey had been "banding together" with then environment minister Alan Kelly to commit "daylight robbery."

It then stated there was an 18th century highwayman in Waterford called "Crotty the Robber" and now "Coffey the Robber was trying to do the very same".

The newspaper based an article almost 90pc on the press release and put in a headline "Coffey the Robber".

Mr Coffey claimed this was defamatory. Iconic Newspapers and the journalist who wrote the story, Sam Matthews, denied the claims.

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