Journalist denies ‘crazy conspiracy’ to damage businessman O’Brien Denis O’Brien’s inclusion in articles about a report concerning the exposure of Irish banks in 2008 was not part of some “crazy conspiracy” to damage him, journalist Tom Lyons has told a High Court…

Denis O’Brien outside the Four Courts. Photos: Collins
Denis O’Brien outside the Four Courts. Photos: Collins
Defamation claims: Journalist Tom Lyons. Photo: Collins

Tim Healy

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  • Journalist denies ‘crazy conspiracy’ to damage businessman O’Brien
    Independent.ie
    Denis O’Brien’s inclusion in articles about a report concerning the exposure of Irish banks in 2008 was not part of some “crazy conspiracy” to damage him, journalist Tom Lyons has told a High Court jury.
    https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/journalist-denies-crazy-conspiracy-to-damage-businessman-obrien-37815339.html
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Denis O’Brien’s inclusion in articles about a report concerning the exposure of Irish banks in 2008 was not part of some “crazy conspiracy” to damage him, journalist Tom Lyons has told a High Court jury.

Mr Lyons said Mr O’Brien was included in the ‘Sunday Business Post’ (SBP) articles of March 15, 2015, because he was named in that report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as among the 22 biggest borrowers from Irish banks in 2008.

The PWC report was about the financial crash and what happened to Ireland, not about Mr O’Brien, he said.

The ‘SBP’ articles “faithfully reported” the PWC report and were not defamatory of Mr O’Brien. Nor were they malicious, he told the court.

Cross-examined by Paul O’Higgins SC, Mr Lyons said it was “ridiculous” to suggest he or then ‘SBP’ editor Ian Kehoe might have “made up” something about Mr O’Brien and “stuck him” in the middle of the articles.

To protect his source, Mr Lyons said he shredded the PWC report, labelled confidential, on March 17, 2015, the day before Mr O’Brien’s solicitors sent their first letter complaining about it. He has no notes of the report but was confident the ‘SBP’ articles were a fair reflection of its contents.

Mr O’Higgins said his side has never seen the PWC report and suggested it was likely to have dealt with other dimensions to the banks’ story not covered in the ‘SBP’ articles.

Mr Lyons said: “We covered all the main points, I’m a very experienced journalist.”

The story was about Ireland, “the big picture” and the focus was not Mr O’Brien.

One of the ‘SBP’ articles written by him got across the “top line numbers” as set out in the PWC report concerning Mr O’Brien. PWC had put his total borrowings from Irish banks in 2008 at €1bn, including €785m from Anglo, and his article reported that and that Mr O’Brien was meeting all his repayments.

The 22 individuals were referred to as a group of borrowers at various stages throughout the report and dealt with individually towards the end of it and he believed two pages concerned Mr O’Brien individually.

In his action against Post Publications, Mr O’Brien claims the articles defamed him because they wrongly meant he was among a “gang” of 22 borrowers who “wrecked the country” and injured his reputation.

The defendant denies the words mean what Mr O’Brien claims, denies defamation and malicious publication, and has pleaded “fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest”.

Yesterday, Mr Lyons told his counsel Michael McDowell SC he and the ‘SBP’ were “professional and analytical and diligent” in their approach to publication. There was “no agenda” in using a photo of Mr O’Brien among several photos of others used and photos were selected on the basis of what was available and who was best known among the group of 22.

Addressing Mr O’Brien’s claim he was wrongly described as a property developer when his core business was telecommunications and media, Mr Lyons said: “We thought he was a property developer.”

He disagreed describing Mr O’Brien as a developer was a “gratuitous slur”. He said the articles “faithfully reported” the PWC report and articles written by him also included material from the Dáil record in 2008.

He had commissioned journalist Gavin Sheridan to write one of the articles for which Mr Lyons chose the headline “People of Influence, people of blame”. Mr Lyons said he took responsibility for that article and defended it “100pc”.

He said a headline “The Gang of 22” in one of his articles meant a “group” and was “very obviously not a reference to criminality”.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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