Tuesday 15 October 2019

Man who defamed couple in Facebook posts apologises and must pay €32k damages

Patricia Barnett and Patrick Murphy leaving Letterkenny Circuit Court
Patricia Barnett and Patrick Murphy leaving Letterkenny Circuit Court

A woman and her husband have been awarded more than €30,000 in damages against a neighbour who defamed them on Facebook.

Anthony Downes launched a tirade of insults against Pat- ricia Barnett and her husband Patrick Murphy for no apparent reason.

The couple, from Buncrana, Co Donegal, took a defamation action against Downes, which was settled at Letterkenny Circuit Civil Court yesterday.

Downes, who did not appear in court, admitted the action and agreed to apologise un- reservedly to the couple.

Ms Barnett, a podiatrist, told the court she barely knew Downes and knew of no reason why he would have posted a number of attacks against her on her private and business Facebook pages.

The court heard how Downes accused Ms Barnett's husband of having an affair with another woman and also referred to her as being overweight.

Ms Barnett said she took screenshots of the posts, which had appeared on February 5 and 6, 2015, and had then deleted them before contacting gardai.

She said the posts had both hurt her personally and professionally and added that she had later met clients who had not come back to her business because of the embarrassment caused.


Mr Murphy, who is his wife's officer manager, said he was horrified by the postings.

"Downes was indicating that I was having an affair. That was totally and utterly untrue," he said.

He added that the post had been shared nine times on Facebook.

He said the couple had to speak to their twins (15) about the incident and explain to them that it was not true.

Peter Nolan, barrister for Downes, said his client had agreed to give an apology to Ms Barnett and Mr Murphy. In the apology, Downes said he was "ashamed and embarrassed".

Judge James O'Donoghue described the Facebook posts as "scurrilous and reckless". "The court is satisfied that both were wronged and their names seriously sullied," he said.

He awarded Ms Barnett €20,000 in damages and Mr Murphy €12,500 in damages, and ordered that one of them receive their costs in the case.

The judge also issued a general warning that the posting of Facebook comments was sometimes a "highly dangerous activity".

Anne Harkin, the third plaintiff in the case, is due to have her case heard by videolink from Australia in the coming days.

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