Defamation case over Sunday Times article about man filming birth of daughter to resume tomorrow

Tuesday 16 July 2013 22.24
Brenda Power wrote the article after John McCauley lost a court case taken against a hospital and a midwife
Brenda Power wrote the article after John McCauley lost a court case taken against a hospital and a midwife

The jury in a defamation action against the Sunday Times and columnist Brenda Power will resume deliberating on a verdict tomorrow after five hours of deliberation today.

John McCauley claims a March 2009 article about his filming the birth of his daughter at a Dublin hospital three years earlier was defamatory.

Ms Power wrote the article after Mr McCauley lost a court case taken against the hospital and a midwife who stopped him filming.

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

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, some kind of head case running around with a camera".

The 46-year-old, who now lives in Dubai and Lithuania, also claims 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.

He also says it meant he was motivated by self-interest with no appreciation for his role in the delivery of the baby.

The defendants deny the claims and say the article was true and was fair comment.

Ms Power said she stood over the article which she wrote on the facts of the court case against the midwife, which Mr McCauley lost and did not appeal.

Asked about a reference in her article about midwives working too hard in a task too important "to concern themselves with tiptoeing around the sensitivities of a father with a lawyer on speed dial", Ms Power said if Mr McCauley's action over the filming had succeeded, it would have meant the medical profession would first have to consult with the families of patients as to whether a situation was an emergency.

She said he did appear to have a lawyer on speed dial because he had sued the midwife, three female newspaper columnists, including her, as well as an air hostess who refused to serve him drink on a plane, she 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 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 RTÉ’s 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 Smith, 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 Smith 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 Halappanavaar 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 the witness box.

Mr Smith 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.

He added: "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.