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Man loses defamation case after Beaumont Hospital nurse noted he was 'spooning' his girlfriend on hospital bed

Defence costs were awarded against Ryan Tobin.

A 19-YEAR-old who claimed he had been wrongly and maliciously accused of “spooning” with his girlfriend in a hospital bed, has lost a €75,000 damages claim for defamation against Beaumont Hospital and one of its staff nurses Anna Hughes.

Ryan Tobin, of The Grove, Skerries Rock, Skerries, claimed in the Circuit Civil Court that a reference by Staff Nursh Hughes in her nursing notes  that he had been witnessed by staff “spooning in bed” with his girlfriend carried a defamatory innuendo of sexual misconduct.

Judge Cormac Quinn told Shane English, counsel for Beaumont and Ms Hughes, that the court considered staff had acted appropriately and were entitled to speak sternly if they had to.

The judge said that words spoken to Mr Tobin by Nurse Hughes were not defamatory nor was her reference in the nursing notes to their spooning in bed. He awarded costs of the hospital’s defence to his claim for defamation and negligence against Tobin.

Tobin told the court that on 12 February 2018, when he was 17, he was being treated in St Gabriel’s Ward in Beaumont Hospital and his mother and father and girlfriend were with him behind his bed screen. His girlfriend had been half-lying half-sitting on the bed and he had been comforting himself by leaning his head against her shoulder.

Suddenly the bed curtain had been pulled back and Nurse Hughes had said: “This behaviour is completely inappropriate. There are young children present. Have some respect. Get off the bed now.”

He said she had later included in her notes that “patient was witnessed by staff…with girlfriend (spooning in bed.)”

Mr English, who appeared with Corrigan and Corrigan Solicitors, put it to him in cross-examination that it would be preposterous for anyone to suggest that he had been involved in any sort of sexual act with his girlfriend with his parents watching them. Mr English said his girlfriend had been lying on the bed fully clothed and with her shoes on.  Nursing staff would have been entitled to tell her to get off.

In his claim, Tobin said he had been frightened and distressed by Nurse Hughes’s words and actions. His mother, Mary Tobin, had told her she would be lodging a complaint against her.

His father Ray Tobin, told the court Nurse Hughes had come storming in, aggressively pulled the curtain aside and directed her remarks at his son. She had stormed out again in the manner she had stormed in.

Nurses Hughes said the bed curtain had been closed and for safety of the patient it was necessary that he be observed at all time. She had pulled the curtain back but had no reason to be aggressive.

“I observed Ryan’s girlfriend lying flat.  Her torso was across the back of his pillow and her legs were lying to the side of the bed,” she told Judge Quinn. “I said such behaviour was inappropriate in a children’s ward and I did not mean to imply there was sexual activity going on in Ryan’s cubicle.”

Nurse Hughes told Mr English that if she had seen two people in a patient’s bed having intimate or sexual relations it would cause her considerable concern and would have reported it to management.

Ms Hughes told barrister John Maher, who appeared with Michelle Synnott of Lawline Solicitors for Tobin, that Ryan was in the bed and she was in behind him on the bed. She had written on his chart that his girlfriend was lying in the bed.

Mr Maher said that, in a letter to Ryan and his parents, the hospital had apologised and had stated that on any such future occasion alternative words than “spooning” would be used. Nurse Hughes agreed with him she had been told afterwards she should not have used that word.

Tobin had claimed that with the note on his medical records the alleged defamation would be ongoing.

Mr English applied for and was granted legal costs for the defendants who had always denied there had been any defamation or negligence on their part.