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Friday 19 April 2019

Reporter wrote to priest's legal team after libel

THE INVESTIGATION into the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel will concentrate on why RTE allowed reporter Aoife Kavanagh to enter into correspondence with the priest's lawyers.

It's been discovered Ms Kavanagh was writing to the defamed priest's solicitors from her own personal e-mail even after she libelled him on television.

It's highly unusual for a reporter to respond to legal letters without the knowledge or authority of their superiors. Normally it is left to the journalist's lawyers or legal team.

The Prime Time Investigates programme, in which the claims were made, A Mission to Prey, was broadcast on May 23.

Three days later, Ms Kavanagh emailed Fr Reynolds' representatives, Fair & Murtagh Solicitors, to say: "Prime Time is satisfied that it can stand over each and every allegation made against your client in its programme."

The email was sent in response to a letter from Fair & Murtagh immediately prior to broadcast stating that Fr Reynolds denied the claims.

The firm warned if the allegations were aired, defamation proceedings would follow.

On July 7, Sheila -- the woman RTE wrongly alleged was Fr Reynolds' daughter -- stated in a letter that the priest was not her biological father and she had discovered the identity of her dad. However, the station still refused to back down.

It was not until the results of a paternity test definitively proved Fr Reynolds was not the woman's father that the broadcaster admitted the falsehood on September 20.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is now conducting an investigation into how the programme made it to air. RTE is carrying out its own probe as well. RTE's news managing director Ed Mulhall and current affairs editor Ken O'Shea have stood aside while the BAI inquiry is ongoing.

In addition, station bosses have commissioned an independent assessment of editorial practice in its television current affairs department.

Tom Savage, the chairman of the RTE Authority, said in a weekend newspaper that Mr Mulhall had the final say in running the discredited documentary. Mr Mulhall was the person at the top of a chain of command that "agreed it was right to put through" the programme, Mr Savage said.

"Everyone is scratching their heads over this. If there was only one individual you could say stress, overworked, or whatever, but it wasn't. Five people -- including among them the most experienced of people who make decisions like they eat their breakfast -- decided it.

"They all agreed. that, yes it was right to pass it through."

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