DANA’S libel settlement with the Sunday World this week is just the beginning of a long, litigious war for the singer and former presidential candidate who, along with her brother, John Brown, is suing a host of media for their coverage of his trial on charges of child abuse. (Brown was acquitted of all charges in 2014.)
There is an effective cap, set by case law, in England and Wales of £250,000 (€295,000) in damages for defamation and privacy, and Cliff Richard won just £210,000 against the BBC in a dramatic case recently. Dana’s Belfast case involved a confidentiality clause, but the six-figure sum referred to in the Sunday World’s statement is not far short of the Richards settlement and the word among Belfast lawyers is that it is the highest libel award in the north for 35 years.
But coming down the tracks down south is a raft of other cases by the two siblings against a variety of media – and there is no such damages cap in Ireland.
A monumental blunder by the Irish Independent before Brown’s trial began was contained in a story that claimed Brown had failed to show for a hearing in Hendon Magistrates Court in May 2013. In fact, the hearing date had been changed, but the Indo carried a completely mistaken story. It said not only had Brown failed to appear, but a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest. This error, picked up by some other media, looked bad enough at the time, but it became a rather more serious matter following Brown’s subsequent acquittal on all charges.
Other erroneous reports by some media inferred that Dana had somehow covered for her brother’s alleged transgressions.
While the Indo and the Irish Times did not carry such stories, their social media sites carried some very serious allegations against Dana and Brown. However, the Irish Daily Mail and Sunday World both misreported as fact that Dana said she had brought her brother to a priest to “cure” him of his alleged misbehaviour. Dana never made any such statement, but the commentary spread across many media and, consequently, libel writs lie waiting to be progressed in the High Court.
Dana is suing the Irish Independent, Irish Times, Irish Daily Mail, Irish Sun and Donegal Daily for different reasons, but all arising out of coverage of her brother’s trial and acquittal. Brown is suing the same newspaper titles, but he is also bringing a civil case for malicious prosecution against the Indo and its former reporter, Greg Harkin (see The Phoenix, 23/3/18).
There are other actions pending, including one from Dana and Brown against TV3, which settled a libel case by other family members after Dana had referred to what she described as malicious comments by them during her presidential campaign in 2011. Dana and Brown allege that, by settling with their warring family members, the broadcaster had given credence to allegations made by their siblings.
Yet another family member, Gerald Brown, was pictured in the Sun, but mistakenly described as his brother John, then facing the abuse charges. Gerald, too, is suing for libel.