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High Court

Gerry Adams challenges aspects of BBC defences ahead of defamation trial

The BBC denies defamation.

FORMER SINN FÉIN leader Gerry Adams wants certain aspects of the BBC’s defence against his defamation action against the UK broadcaster over its reporting of the murder of Denis Donaldson struck out, the High Court has heard.

In a separate pretrial motion, the BBC seeks discovery from him of materials and documents he may have regarding his alleged relationship with the IRA and comments he allegedly made in a 1987 press conference that the consequence of informing is death.

Adams is suing the BBC claiming it defamed him when he claims it falsely alleged, he sanctioned the killing of former SF official Denis Donaldson in 2006 who worked for decades as a spy for the British.

His action is being brought before the Dublin High Court over a 2016 BBC Spotlight programme in which the allegation was made.

There was also a follow-up article on the BBC website in which the same defamatory allegation was made, he claims.

Adams has at all times denied any suggestion that he anything to do with Donaldson’s death.

The BBC denies defamation.

Two pre-trial motions in the action came before Ms Justice Emily Egan at the High Court today.

In his motion Adams, represented by Tom Hogan SC instructed by Johnson’s solicitors, seeks an order from the court striking certain parts of the BBC’s defence to the claims.

He wants the BBC’s defences under Section 18, which concerns the defence of qualified privilege, and Section 26, namely that the article was a fair and reasonable publication concerning a matter of public interest, of the 2009 Defamation Act struck out.

Counsel said that the defences pleaded in relation to the article are bound to fail, on grounds including that the article, with a defamatory headline stating that Adams had sanctioned Donaldson’s killing, had not been amended or adjusted when new information came to light.

This new information, counsel said included reports that a man outside the jurisdiction with alleged links to dissident republicans was wanted by the gardaí on charges in connection with the murder.

Dissident Republicans had claimed responsibility for Donaldson’s murder in 2009, counsel said.

In addition the BBC could not make a claim of qualified privilege in relation to the article, which cosunel said was “quite different” to the Spotlight broadcast.

His client was not seeking to dismiss any parts of the defence in connection with the broadcast but should not have to fight the defences tendered on behalf of the article, counsel added.

In reply, McCullough rejected Adam’s arguments and said the BBC’s defence of both the claim concerning the broadcast and the article should be allowed go before a jury hearing the defamation claim.

In its pre-trial motion the BBC, represented by Eoin McCullough SC, represented by McCann Fitzgerald’s solicitors is seeking discovery of certain documents and materials from Adams which it claims are relevant to its defence of his claims.

These include any documents, recordings or materials Adams has in his possession regarding his relationship and association with the IRA.

The BBC also seeks discovery of any evidence, knowledge or recordings he has regarding his alleged knowledge of the treatment of those who informed on the IRA.

It further seeks materials concerning a press conference given by Adams in 1987 where he said that “Everyone in West Belfast knows that the consequence of informing is death”.

The hearing of the BBC’s motion, which is opposed, is expected to commence before the court tomorrow.

In his action, Adams says he suffered damage to his reputation as a result of what he says is the false allegation made by an anonymous source in the programme that he sanctioned the killing of Donaldson (55) who worked for SF in Stormont but also was a spy for M15 for two decades.

Donaldson was shot dead at his isolated cottage near Glenties, Co Donegal in April 2006.

The anonymous source, referred to as “Martin” in the programme, said he (Martin) was also a paid agent for British State security services including MI-5 while a member of the IRA.

The BBC denies it was defamatory and claims the programme/publication was put out in good faith and during discussion on a subject of public and vital interest.

It constituted responsible journalism, which was the result of careful investigation, it argues.

The hearing of the pre-trial motions continues.

Comments are closed as legal proceedings are ongoing. 

Aodhan O Faolain