The Irish Mail on Sunday has denied claims they tried to deceive readers into buying their paper by publishing a special edition with a fake Sunday Tribune masthead.

Associated Newspapers Ireland, owners of the Irish Mail on Sunday, is being prosecuted by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) at the Dublin District Civil Court for breaching the Consumer Protection Act.

The watchdog brought the case after complaints by readers who bought the special edition thinking they had purchased the Sunday Tribune, days after it went into receivership.

A receiver was appointed to the loss making Tribune on 1 February 1 and two days later a decision was made not to bring out a final edition on 6 February.

The Irish Mail on Sunday then distributed about 26,000 special editions to shops on the east coast.

They featured a "wraparound" cover with a heading saying "a special edition designed for readers of the Sunday Tribune".

The special edition also had vouchers on the back page offering the Irish Mail on Sunday at a reduced price for the next four weeks.

In evidence, Noirin Hegarty, the Sunday Tribune's editor for six years prior to its closure, told Judge Conal Gibbons that on Sunday 6 February last, she learned there was a paper purporting to the Sunday Tribune.

She told Jonathan Kilfeather SC for the NCA, that the masthead and colours were the same as the Tribune's and similar fonts were used.

"It was not the Sunday Tribune but it looked like it," she said.

She later issued a statement expressing her outrage at the edition printed by the Irish Mail on Sunday.

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), gave evidence and said he bought the edition thinking it was the Sunday Tribune.

He agreed with Neil Steen BL, for Associated Newspapers Ireland, that the Tribune's closure and announcement that there would be no further editions for at least four weeks had been well publicised.

However, he added that the Tribune's management had not consulted the NUJ about the closure, "so it was entirely possible that they could have brought out an edition".

He described the Irish Mail on Sunday's edition as "crass" and an example of "sharp practice"; the union chief regarded it as "dancing on the graves of my members facing redundancies".

Five consumers gave evidence telling the court that they had each bought the special editions thinking they were the Tribune.
Witness Pierce Farrell told the court he felt "duped" when he brought one of them home and discovered it was really the Irish Mail on Sunday.

The court also heard that several shopkeepers thought the paper they had in stock was the Tribune and later learned it was the Irish Mail on Sunday.

Paul Henderson, Managing Director of Associated Newspapers Ireland described the wraparound cover as a "marketing stunt" to attract Tribune readers and he denied that there was any intention to deceive them.

He also said the wraparound cover's price was different to that of the Tribune, and it listed features and columns carried in the Irish Mail on Sunday only.

In the body of the lead story on the cover it also stated "the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal".

The layout of the special edition was designed by the editorial team. Sebastian Hamilton, editor of the Irish Mail on Sunday said that when a newspaper closes, its readers can be lost to the market immediately unless they have been attracted to an alternative title.