A MEAT processor has been awarded €150,000 in High Court libel damages against an Irish-based Polish newspaper over false articles claiming it worked one of its workers to death.
Kepak, with registered offices in Clonee, Co Meath, sued Wydawnictwo Polska Gazeta Ltd, trading as Polska Gazeta, a weekly paper with a circulation of 10,000 and with registered offices at North Great George's Street, Dublin.
Kepak said that as a result of two untrue articles published by the paper on June 5, 2008, it had suffered loss and damage and also ridicule, contempt, distress and embarrassment.
A solicitor who had acted for the newspaper company told the court yesterday it had ceased trading and it "did not want to be involved" in the court case.
The jury found the meat company had been defamed and awarded compensatory damages of €120,000 and aggravated damages of €30,000.
The court heard the Polska Gazeta published two articles arising out of the death of Leszek Pas (48), who had worked for six years at Kepak's processing plant in Ballymahon, Longford, where two-thirds of the employees are Polish.
An inquest found he died from cardiac arrest secondary to blocked arteries. Gareth Compton, for Kepak, said Mr Pas arrived for work on May 28, 2008, feeling ill and having difficulty breathing. He was taken to Mullingar Hospital and died at 8.20am.
In a "scathing attack" by the newspaper, it printed two stories headed: 'Death From Overworking' and '200% Productivity', counsel said.
The paper blamed Kepak for his death, falsely describing the factory as "nothing more than a sweat shop" where workers were worked like slaves and where machines were better valued then men, counsel said.
These "terrible allegations" were completely untrue, which caused distress and damage to the company and its employees, counsel said. No attempt had been made to contact the company before the articles were published, nor was any apology issued.
After court proceedings were issued and in an effort to "drag up dirt", the paper then published an advertisement type notice on February 10, 2009, asking people who worked in Kepak, Ballymahon, in 2007/2008, to contact it if they "feel they were harmed by the employer", counsel said.
John Walsh, Ballymahon factory manager, told the court the company prided itself on its treatment of its workers.