Tuesday 22 October 2019

No 'contrivance' to hurt O'Brien, says 'Post' editor

Denis O’Brien: Claims articles in ‘Business Post’ defamed him. Picture: Collins
Denis O’Brien: Claims articles in ‘Business Post’ defamed him. Picture: Collins

Tim Healy

Articles which included Denis O'Brien among 22 men named as the biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008 were not a "contrivance" to blacken him, the High Court has been told.

The articles published in the 'Sunday Business Post' ('SBP') on March 15, 2015, were based on a confidential Price WaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report about the exposure of Irish banks in 2008, former 'SBP' editor Ian Kehoe said.

It was untrue to suggest Mr O'Brien was "shoehorned" into the articles or they were a "gratuitous, cynical and unwarranted slur" and a "contrivance" to blacken him, he said. He was not in the business of "doctoring" reports and it would have undermined the paper's credibility to have picked 21 of 22 names, he said.

A headline "The Gang of 22" was a reference back to the "gang of 22", a group within Fianna Fáil who tried in 1983 to oust Charles Haughey as leader of the party, he said. It was used in a headline on one of the 'SBP' articles as a "clever play" on the FF gang of 22.

The articles stated Mr O'Brien had met his interest payments and was a "great" borrower who had gone on to repay all his loans, he added.

Mr Kehoe was continuing his evidence on the ninth day of the action by Mr O'Brien against Post Publications Ltd, publisher of the 'SBP', alleging he was defamed in the articles.

Journalist Tom Lyons obtained the PwC report from a source in 2015 and shredded it later to protect the source.

Mr O'Brien claims the articles, which ran over six pages, wrongly meant he was among a "gang" of 22 borrowers who "wrecked the country" and that they defamed him and injured his reputation.

The defendant denies the words complained of mean what Mr O'Brien says, denies defamation and malicious publication, and has also pleaded "fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest".

Mr Kehoe was asked about a complaint that Mr O'Brien was referred to as a "developer king" when he knew "full well" Mr O'Brien is not a property developer and his core interests are in telecommunications and the media. Mr Kehoe said the articles did not say Mr O'Brien was a developer king. He said Mr O'Brien is a developer who has been developing properties since the 1990s and who still continues to have property interests.

Asked about an article headlined "People of influence, people of blame", written by journalist Gavin Sheridan, Mr Kehoe said the focus was the banking inquiry and Mr Sheridan felt there were questions the inquiry needed to answer to get a fuller understanding of what happened.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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