Thursday 22 August 2019

Newspaper apologises over article which led to collapse of rape trial

INM’s headquarters in Dublin’s Talbot Street
INM’s headquarters in Dublin’s Talbot Street
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An unreserved apology has been made over the publication of a newspaper article which led to the collapse of a rape trial.

The High Court has heard the publishers of the Irish Independent have paid for the cost of the collapsed trial and subsequent contempt of court proceedings.

The court heard a failure in the editorial and legal checks at the newspaper led to material about an ongoing rape trial in Dublin being included in an analysis piece on the treatment of complainants which appeared last November.

Legal advice was provided by Fanning and Kelly Solicitors.

The jury in the trial was discharged two days later following an application from counsel for the accused.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott agreed to the application as he was concerned about the juxtaposition of opinions with a trial that was still at hearing. A retrial will now take place.

Contempt proceedings were later brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) against Independent News & Media (INM), journalist Nicola Anderson and INM editor-in-chief Fionnán Sheahan.

But the High Court heard yesterday that the DPP was withdrawing proceedings against Ms Anderson and Mr Sheahan. The only outstanding proceedings were against INM company Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd.

James Dwyer SC, for the DPP, said that as Independent Newspapers had admitted to contempt, the issue for the court was to assess the size of the fine.

Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan heard the analysis piece was part of a package of articles arising from a rape trial in Cork, which made international headlines after the complainant’s choice of underwear was referred to by the defence.

In an affidavit, solicitor Jane O’Neill, from the Office of the DPP, said she believed the article interfered with the administration of justice. She said it implied the complainant was being treated unfairly and cast aspersions on the trial process.

In an affidavit, Mr Sheahan, who was the editor of the Irish Independent at the time, said he felt “greatly distressed and upset” about the error which led to the collapse of the trial.

It arose from a serious failure of the system which was in place at the time for the review and clearance of articles.

He said he regarded Ms Anderson as a trustworthy and professional journalist. 

The court also heard INM managing editor Edward McCann said he wished, on behalf of the company, to express sincere regret for the publication.

Ms Justice O’Regan was addressed by counsel for both sides on various issues which the Court of Appeal found should be taken into account when deciding the appropriate fine.

Cian Ferriter SC, for INM, said mitigating factors included an early plea of guilty and an early offer to pay the costs of the trial.

Mr Dwyer accepted that there had been an early plea.

However, counsel for the DPP said it was clearly an aggravating factor that the article was written while the jury was out considering its verdict. The matter was adjourned until today.

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