No verdict in Sunday Times defamation trial

Wednesday 17 July 2013 23.00
The jury in a defamation case taken against the Sunday Times and columnist Brenda Power has been discharged
The jury in a defamation case taken against the Sunday Times and columnist Brenda Power has been discharged

The jury in a High Court defamation case taken against the Sunday Times and columnist Brenda Power has been discharged after failing to reach a verdict.

Mr Justice Eamon de Valera thanked the jurors for their time and said they obviously had taken the case very seriously.

He excused them for jury service for ten years.

John McCauley took the action against the Sunday Times and columnist Brenda Power over an article about his filming the birth of his baby at a Dublin hospital.

Mr McCauley sued a midwife who asked him to stop filming. He lost his case in 2009.

The Sunday Times published an opinion piece by Ms Power a few days later.

He claimed the article was defamatory and portrayed him as having no consideration or care for his partner or his baby.

During the four-day hearing his lawyers said it was an outrageous and malicious piece of journalism and portrayed him as prancing about the place promoting himself as the star, ignoring his child who was struggling for breath and "some kind of head case running around with a camera".

The 46-year-old, who is from Celbridge and now lives in Dubai and Lithuania, also claimed it meant he failed to reassure or comfort his wife in what was alleged by the paper to be an emergency situation but which he says was not the case.

The defendants denied the claims and said the article was true and was fair comment on a matter of public interest.

In evidence, Ms Power stood over the article and said she had strong feelings about the work midwives do and to think someone could be hauled before the courts for just doing their job made her very upset.

In closing arguments counsel for the Sunday Times and Ms Power, Mark Harty, said the Circuit Court had found it was an emergency situation despite Mr McCauley's claims it was not.

He had not appealed the Circuit Court findings.

Mr Harty said after hauling the midwife personally before the court he then dragged her before the court of public opinion by giving an interview to the Pat Kenny show and to other journalists.

Ms Power had decided to stand up for what was right in a strongly-worded opinion piece merited by the actions of Mr McCauley, he said.

The article was not just about Mr McCauley it was about what men should be doing in the delivery room and whether or not they should be filming a birth.

It was about Mr McCauley's case against the midwife Iris Halbech but was not solely about him.

It was the expression of an honestly held opinion, he said and the law gives you the right to hold strong opinions.

There was no point in having opinion writers if all they did was express everyone's opinion, he said.

It was clear this was an opinion piece and the plaintiff was not entitled to win his case. He said the damage to Mr McCauley's character was done when he took the case against the midwife who asked him to stop filming.

Counsel for Mr McCauley, Colm Smyth, told the jury just because he had made the "serious error" of suing the midwife, the Sunday Times was not entitled to hold him up to ridicule and contempt.

No one could judge the behaviour of Mr McCauley in the delivery room because they were not there, he said.

Therefore anyone reading Ms Power's article could only conclude the worst; that he was self centred, had no care for his partner, the occasion was all about him and he had no regard for an alleged emergency unfolding before him.

It portrayed him as "prancing about the place promoting himself as the star, ignoring his child who was struggling for breath and there was no evidence of that", Mr Smyth said.

He told the jury they need only consult "the silent witness in this case" which was the video shown to them, to see there was no evidence of that.

Ms Power had gone on a monologue in the witness box about how dreadful it was to sue a midwife, he said.

She had also cynically mentioned the case of Savita Halappanavar three times which had no relevance to this case.

"How can someone stoop so low to lift so little? It was a disgrace," he said adding the defendants had tried to inflame hatred against Mr McCauley, to deflect attention from the true situation which was that she had consistently defamed him in her article.

He said Ms Power was very anxious to get into the mode of star performer herself in with witness box.

Mr Smyth said journalists had significant power to make or break a reputation.

"The pen is mightier than the sword and is a lethal weapon in the hands of someone who wants to use it. It (the article) was done for the purpose of not only teaching him a lesson but to reduce his standing," he said adding: "If she gets away with this today she is at liberty to repeat every allegation made in that article forever."

He said it was fully accepted that suing the midwife was not Mr McCauley's "brightest or best moment" but serious damage was caused to his reputation and he was entitled to be compensated.