Scientologist ordered to pay €5,000 damages for ‘vitriolic’ personal attack
Zabrina Collins was ordered by a judge today to pay €5,000 damages for a “vitriolic and personalised” attack on the character of a Co Mayo man who opposes the beliefs and teachings of the Church of Scientology of which she is a leading member.
Judge James O’Donohoe in the Circuit Civil Court said that allegations by her against Peter Griffiths of criminal activity, hate mongering and links to gay pornographic movies of teenage boys “were largely untrue and grossly defamatory.”
He stated that references in an e-mail from Collins to a Dublin headmaster, describing Griffiths as not being a fit person to engage with impressionable students, was “particularly distasteful” but had not gone far enough to brand him a paedophile either directly or by innuendo.
Judge O’Donohoe had heard that Collins had sent the email to the principal of St David’s CBS, Artane, Dublin, in May 2013 after she discovered a YouTube recording of a talk on “cults” by Mr Griffiths to a class of teenage boys at the school.
She had claimed his talk had centred on Scientology, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its members, and accused him of “openly and viciously” slandering the church. She had also accused him of being “an avid hate campaigner against Scientologists” and of “hate mongering” against the church.
In the email she included a picture of Griffiths that he had allowed to be taken of himself with his genitals covered only with a Guy Fawkes mask which Griffiths told the court had been in support of Prince Harry following a nude photo scandal by the third in line to the British throne in a Las Vegas Hotel in August 2012.
Judge O’Donohoe told Seamus O’Tuathail SC, counsel for Griffiths, of Cual Gara, Teeling Street, Ballina, that Ms Collins had sought to prove the truth of each and every allegation against his client despite the fact there had not been a specific pleading of such in the defence that had been personally drawn up by Collins.
Mr O’Tuathail, who appeared with barrister John Smith and solicitor Cormac O Ceallaigh, had told the court Mr Griffiths was seeking €50,000 damages against Ms Collins.
The judge said today, in a reserved judgment, that the claim of qualified privilege regarding Ms Collins’s remarks could not extend to protect such “a vile attack” on Mr Griffiths’ good name. There had been a good deal of history and animus between the parties which had accounted for the tone of the email which he described as “malicious in the extreme.”
He said publication of the defamatory remarks had not been extensive and had been directed to the school principal. Mr Griffiths almost immediately uploaded the material to the internet which had a much wider audience, thereby moderating the level of damages due to him.
Judge O’Donohoe also gave judgment in a second case in which Collins, a chiropractor, of The Boulevard, Mount Eustace, Tyrelstown, Dublin 15, and Scientologist Michael O’Donell, a marketing consultant of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin, sued Griffiths and also embalmer John McGhee, of Armstrong Grove, Clara, Co Offaly, for assault and battery.
The judge said Mr McGhee had followed Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell in Dublin as they distributed leaflets against drug taking. From a video he had seen it was very clear to him that Mr McGhee had certainly been guilty of assault. His harassing of her and the grabbing by him of leaflets constituted battery.
Judge O’Donohoe told barrister Frank Beatty, counsel for Ms Collins, that his client could be heard letting out a “shrill shriek” on the video which indicated to the court that she was apprehensive of a battering from Mr McGhee who did not turn up in court today to hear the judgment.
The judge awarded Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell a total of €3,500 against McGhee for assault and battery. Mr Griffiths, he said, had played a lesser role by videoing the assault but had consorted with Mr McGhee and for harassment and assault he awarded Collins and O’Donnell €2,000 damages against Griffiths.
Mr Beatty and Mr O’Tuathail agreed that the question of costs could be dealt with by the court at a later date.
Ms Collins is a daughter of publican Frank Shortt, 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 €4.6 million, damages awarded by the High Court to Mr short who was wrongly convicted in 1995 of allowing the sale of drugs at his Point Inn premises in Quigley’s Point, Inishowen, Co Donegal.
Mr Shortt was imprisoned for three years before being cleared.