THE publisher of the 'Irish Mail on Sunday' has been found guilty of breaking consumer protection laws by publishing 26,000 'Sunday Tribune' lookalike editions and is faced with paying a €40,000 bill.
Associated Newspapers (Ireland) (ANI), owner of the 'Irish Mail on Sunday', was prosecuted by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) at Dublin District Court for breaching consumer protection legislation.
The newspaper group had pleaded not guilty to six charges.
The publisher will have to pay a €15,000 donation to charity and costs of €25,000 to the NCA.
The watchdog brought the case against ANI after complaints by readers who bought the "special edition" the 'Irish Mail on Sunday' on February 6 last thinking they had purchased the 'Sunday Tribune' -- days after it went into receivership.
Yesterday, Judge Conal Gibbons said he had found ANI guilty on four of the charges. He noted the evidence from witnesses who bought the edition thinking it was the 'Sunday Tribune' and who had felt "duped" and "cheated".
He also noted evidence from retailers and shop employees, who had thought they had been supplied with editions of the 'Sunday Tribune'.
He accepted submissions from counsel for ANI, Mr Neil Steen, that his client was a good corporate citizen. However, Judge Gibbons rejected claims that it was a "trivial" matter and he commended the work of NCA in its handling of the case.
Judge Gibbons said he believed that the 'Irish Mail on Sunday' did not deliberately try to deceive consumers by publishing the misleading special edition.
And he accepted that ANI's managing director, Paul Henderson, and 'Irish Mail on Sunday' editor Sebastian Hamilton, whom he described as men "with ink in their veins", did not intend for newspaper readers to be deceived.
However, he described the decision to run the special edition as an "over zealous" marketing exercise to attract former 'Sunday Tribune' readers.
Judge Gibbons said he was applying the Probation Offender's Act, sparing ANI a criminal conviction, on the basis that it pays the NCA's legal costs and expenses, and donates €15,000 to charity within four weeks.
He specified that given the nature of the case, the charity should be nominated by the National Union of Journalists, with the view that the money would go to a benevolent fund for journalists.
A receiver was appointed to the loss-making 'Sunday Tribune' on February 1 and two days later a decision was made not to bring out a final edition on February 6.
The 'Irish Mail on Sunday' then distributed 26,000 "special editions" to shops on the east coast of which about 9,000 issues were sold. They featured a "wraparound" cover with a heading saying "a special edition designed for readers of the 'Sunday Tribune'".
The defunct newspaper's editor, Noirin Hegarty, told the court that the edition in question looked like the 'Sunday Tribune' and had a similar masthead, fonts and colours.
ANI's lawyers submitted that the case was brought following "a media firestorm".