High Court reporters
A High Court jury has awarded a businessman €75,000 over a defamatory article in the Limerick Leader which said he was a tax defaulter.
William Bird (82), a director of William Bird Limerick Ltd and operator of the Stella Bingo Hall on Shannon Street, Limerick, sued Iconic Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Limerick Leader, over an article in the paper in June 2016, listing tax settlements from a list published by the Revenue Commissioners.
The article, which came out in print on June 8th, 2016, stated: "Funfair/amusement activity operator William Bird, of Henry Street, reached three separate settlements for under-declaration of corporation tax and VAT, under-declaration of PAYE/PRSI and VAT, and under-declaration of corporation tax, in relation to three companies under his name. In total, the monies paid to Revenue in his case amounted to €183,595."
After deliberating for more than three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday, the jury decided those words could be reasonably understood by readers of the article as referring to Mr Bird.
It also found those words meant Mr Bird was responsible for under-declarations of liability to pay taxes and Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) by three of his companies, which resulted in three separate settlements by him and a payment to revenue of €183,595.
The court awarded him €75,000 in general damages.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens thanked the members of the jury and exempted them from jury service for 10 years.
Mr Bird, of Castleconnell, Co Limerick, claimed the article falsely meant, among other things, he was a tax defaulter, had submitted false or fraudulent tax returns, and that he had submitted false or fraudulent tax returns and was of low moral character.
He claimed that, as a result of the article, people in his village of Castleconnell, Co Limerick, had avoided him and he had withdrawn from going out in his locality the way he had previously.
Iconic denied defamation and argued, among other things, that the article did not concern Mr Bird.
The court heard the Bird family was well known as a travelling funfair and amusement business and has run the Funderland Fair in the RDS over the years.
Mr Bird was one of four brothers who worked with their father in the business and, in 1994, Mr Bird transferred most of his interest in the Bird companies and was involved in only one, William Bird Limerick Ltd, which operated the Stella Bingo Hall.
The newspaper article stated settlements had been with three William Bird companies with which he did not have anything to do, Mr Bird's side argued.