Friday 20 September 2019

Jury unable to reach a verdict as Coffey case heads for costly retrial

Defamation case: Former minister Paudie Coffey leaving the court. Picture: Collins
Defamation case: Former minister Paudie Coffey leaving the court. Picture: Collins

Tim Healy

Another costly trial is in the offing after a High Court jury failed to reach a verdict in the defamation action by former junior minister Paudie Coffey.

Following nearly 11 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury was unable to reach a majority verdict.

The judge adjourned to a future list to fix jury trial dates, and said costs would be dealt with in the next case. Another trial would be expected to cost a six-figure sum.

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

When the jury returned yesterday, it spent nearly six more hours deliberating after which the foreman told the court there was "no prospect" of it reaching a majority verdict.

It was asked to retire for a few more minutes so the judge could consult with lawyers for both sides.

When the jury returned, the judge said they could well understand the parties would like them to reach a verdict. Otherwise the case would have to go before a new jury.

He said the parties had asked if the jury was afforded any further time to discuss, whether or not it would reach a verdict.

The foreman asked for a couple of minutes to discuss it. Some 25 minutes later, the jury returned and the foreman said it could still not reach a verdict.

The case centred on the 'Kilkenny People' newspaper's use of a press release from Mr Coffey's Fine Gael 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 Dáil seat more than a month later.

The press release was issued over a dispute about a commission that was looking at moving the administrative boundary of Waterford into Kilkenny. It said Mr Coffey had been "banding together" with then environment minister Alan Kelly to commit "daylight robbery".

It said 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 with the headline "Coffey the Robber". Mr Coffey claimed this was defamatory.

Iconic Newspapers and the journalist Sam Matthews denied the claims.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News