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Newspaper to pay damages to former civil servant

A regional daily is to pay undisclosed damages to a former top civil servant as part of a libel settlement.

An apology to Sir Gerry Loughran was also read out at the High Court in Belfast, pictured below, under the terms of the resolution reached with the Johnston Press-owned News Letter.

Lawyers for the newspaper accepted some readers may have wrongly inferred from articles about a government watchdog report that Sir Gerry, the former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, was somehow linked to a “suspected fraud”.

Sir Gerry had sued over coverage of a Stormont Public Accounts Committee report in 2012.

Belfast High Court

The report by members of the committee into non-profit company the Bioscience and Technology Institute, set up to provide a cutting-edge building for new biotech firms, alleged incompetence and mismanagement of the project on the part of Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment officials.

Two articles and a tweet by a journalist were at the centre of the defamation action.

A trial hearing had been listed for next week, but the Belfast Telegraph reported yesterday a settlement had been reached.

Senior counsel for the News Letter read out an agreed statement setting out how proceedings were based on articles headlined ‘Call in PSNI over suspected fraud, say MLAs’ and ‘Retired top civil servants involved’.

Gerry Simpson QC said: “Without prejudice to the defendant’s right to publish matters of high public interest, the defendant nonetheless accepts that some readers may have inferred wrongly from the subject articles that Sir Gerry Loughran, a former head of the civil service, was somehow implicated in the ‘suspected fraud’ referred to in the articles.

“It was never the defendant’s intention to suggest any involvement by Sir Gerry in the ‘suspected fraud’ and it unreservedly accepts that Sir Gerry has not been guilty of any wrongdoing or impropriety, and acknowledges his impeccable reputation and many years of public service.”

He continued: “The defendant is happy to make this clear and apologises to Sir Gerry Loughran for any distress caused by these references to him.

“As a mark of its regret, the defendant has also agreed to pay appropriate damages and costs to Sir Gerry.”

Sir Gerry declined to comment on the issue, but solicitor Paul Tweed said: “My client is very satisfied with what has been a total vindication of his reputation following this comprehensive apology before the High Court this morning, regarding a reference to him that should not have been published in the first place.”

A Johnston Press spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that the matter has now been settled and wish to make no further comment on this matter.”

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  • February 9, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Was the tweet checked for legals before being sent? If not, it should have been.
    Is anything checked properly nowadays? One look at my own JP weekly tells me NO.

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