The Irish media is reeling over a libel award of €1.872 million to PR consultant Monica Leech in her action against Independent Newspapers over articles in the Evening Herald that implied she had an extra-marital affair with government minister Martin Cullen.
The unprecedented award boosts Leech’s takings from legal proceedings against a number of media outlets to an estimated total of €2.247 million. She has already collected €250,000 in damages plus costs from RTE after false allegations were unwittingly broadcast in late 2004, and she is reputed to have received €125,000 plus costs and an apology from Associated Newspapers, owners of the Irish Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail titles.
She’s not finished yet. She could scoop up to another €1 million in pending actions. Leech vowed after her latest victory that she will pursue other media groups for libel damages with equal determination.
“I will stand my ground and I will see every one of them off the pitch. I was wronged, gravely wronged, and for other people in Ireland who don’t have the strength, perhaps, or the support to get to where I am today, I will do it for them as well,” she said.
Leech said the Independent group had never once said “sorry” for the “tsunami of lies” they had published about her.
The company’s lead lawyer in the defense of the libel action, Eoin McCullough, described the award as extraordinary and said it was “the highest there has been in a case like this or a case not like this.”
The jury agreed with 49-year-old Leech that the Herald articles meant she had an affair with Cullen. The jury said they did not agree that the articles meant she had traveled with Cullen to New York for a UN conference and never attended any of its sessions.
Leech, a mother of two sons and who lives in Waterford -- Cullen’s constituency -- had claimed a series of “seedy” stories falsely alleged she got government PR contracts because she was having an affair with the minister.
Independent Newspapers denied this was the implication and argued it had raised public interest issues concerning the awarding of such contracts by way of cronyism.
During the seven-day Dublin trial, Leech told the jury, “I was not having an affair with the minister.”
In 2000 she was invited to promote projects on behalf of the Office of Public Works, which was then Cullen’s responsibility as junior finance minister.
After Cullen became a senior minister in 2003, he asked her to provide communications services for the Department of the Environment. She got those contracts on merit, she said.
Leech said that on account of what she described as “the tsunami of lies” contained in the Herald articles -- “a seedy, dirty little campaign, typical of tabloid tramps” -- a new PR venture she launched around that time never got off the ground.
Independent Newspapers, which successfully defended a separate libel lawsuit Leech brought against the Irish Independent two years ago, said it believed last week’s award was “totally disproportionate” and there will be an appeal.
A statement added, “This is yet another example of the pressing need for a fundamental review of our defamation laws.”