A gay man, who is the centre of a defamation action against a member of the Church of Scientology, has told the Circuit Civil Court he allowed a picture to be taken of himself naked with his genitals covered only with a Guy Fawkes mask, “to support Prince Harry.”
Jobless Co Mayo-man Pete Griffiths, who is suing scientologist Zabrina Collins for €50,000 damages for defamation, said he did not expect the picture to have been shared around the world by scientologists.
He said the picture of him had been taken by his boyfriend to support Prince Harry following the naked romp by the third in line to the British throne in a Las Vegas Hotel in August 2012.
Prince Harry’s nude photo scandal sparked a naked craze which swept the internet at the time and included some of his former soldier pals “supporting him” in pictures in which they hid their decency behind combat helmets.
Griffiths told barrister Frank Beatty, counsel for Collins, that the picture of him had been taken by his boyfriend in his apartment. In it he is seen saluteing with his right hand and holding the mask in his left hand over his genitals.
Judge James O’Donohoe heard that the picture was one of several e-mailed by Ms Collins to the principal of St David’s CBS, Artane, Dublin, on May 3, 2013, after she had discovered a recording on You Tube of a talk on “cults” by Griffiths to a class of teenage boys at the school.
Ms Collins (nee Shortt) is a daughter of publican Frank Shortt (80) who was falsely accused by corrupt gardai of allowing drug dealing in the nightclub he owned in Donegal.
In 2007 the Supreme Court more than doubled to €4.6million damages awarded by the High Court to Mr Shortt who was wrongly convicted in 1995 of allowing the sale of drugs at his Point Inn premises in Quigley’s Point, Inishowen, Co Donegal. He was imprisoned for three years before being cleared.
He said that in turn Ms Collins and Michael O’Donnell, a marketing consultant of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin, members of the church, were suing Mr Griffiths and John McGhee, an embalmer, both of 3 Cual Gara, Teeling Street, Ballina, for assault, battery, trespass and nuisance.
In the defamation set of proceedings Ms Collins’s address is stated as The Boulevard, Mount Eustace, Tyrelstown, Dublin 15. In the alleged assault proceedings her address was given as Rathmore Village, Tyrelstown.
Mr O Tuathail, who appeared with barrister John Smith and solicitor Cormac O’Ceallaigh for both Griffiths and McGhee, said the two cases could be heard together but Judge O’Donohue ruled that he would hear the alleged defamation case first.
The court heard that a teacher from St David’s CBS had asked Griffiths to address school pupils on the question of cults and Mr Griffiths agreed with Mr Beatty, in cross-examination, that his talk had centred mainly on the Church of Scientology.
In her letter to the school principal Ms Collins alleged Mr Griffith’s lecture had centred on The Scientology religion, which counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members, in an extremely abusive, insulting and undignified way and accused him of “openly and viciously” slandering scientologists, accusing them of responsibility for three deaths and bribing a coroner in the US.
The court heard she had accused Griffiths of being “an avid hate campaigner against scientologists and “hate mongering” against the church. She had also told the school principal that Griffiths was a leading figure in the “Anonymous group in Ireland whose trade mark was the Guy Fawkes mask” and which, she alleged, had been responsible for hacking websites including the Garda Headquarters website.
Mr Griffiths denied Collins’s allegations and claimed she had implied he was involved in incitement to hatred and had, by innuendo throughout her letter held him out to be a criminal, a paedophile, a bigot and a hypocrite.
He claimed her statements had lowered his reputation in the minds of right-thinking people while holding him up to hatred, ridicule and contempt.
In evidence he denied that he hated scientologists or that his talk was intended to incite hatred against church members. He did not accept scientologists constituted a recognised religion and as far as he knew Ms Collins was an Ethics Officer and Director of Special Affairs in the church.
He had spoken about how motivated scientologists were and what motivated them. He informed the children there were “dangers out there” and forewarned them not to get involved and that to do so might destroy their lives. As a former member he was warning people about the dangers associated with scientology.
Mr Griffiths said he was shocked, horrified and appalled when he had obtained sight of Ms Collins’s allegations in which, he said, there was “not a grain of truth.”
He agreed with Mr Beatty that he had recorded his talk and posted it with four images on You Tube. It contained the word “bullshit” once, “Fuck Off” twice and also used the word “crap.”
Judge O’Donohoe, who viewed a number of videos, also heard of Mr Griffith’s involvement in a protest outside the church’s headquarters in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, and stated the court had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by, or garda prosecution of or alleged ongoing garda surveillance of Mr Griffiths.
The court heard that members of Anonymous had been videoed until the end of last year when a High Court injunction had brought an end to that.
The trial continues at hearing today.