X Factor Judge Louis Walsh has settled a 500,000 euro defamation case against Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers in Ireland.
The Irish Sun ran false allegations that Walsh sexually assaulted a man in a nightclub toilet. The paper accepted the accusation was false but had initially denied defamation claiming they had acted fairly as the story was based on police inquiries into an allegation.
Unemployed dance teacher Leonard Watters was jailed for six months last July for wrongly accusing Walsh of groping him in a Dublin nightclub after a Westlife concert in 2011.
The father-of-two made his first complaint to police outside the club within hours of the false attack, Watters was later examined in a sexual assault unit, which revealed bruising in his genital area.
A formal statement was not made to police for two months and was later found to have been false. Lawyers for Walsh claimed a crime writer for the Irish Sun, Joanne McElgunn, had met Watters on June 15 and offered him a sum of money if he agreed to make a complaint to police about being assaulted by Walsh.
It was also claimed that Ms McElgunn travelled with Watters to a police station so he could make the complaint against Walsh and that Watters was paid €700 and promised further payments after the story was printed.
The case was settled by the President of the High Court in Ireland, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, and comes the day before Lord Justice Leveson’s report on media standards and ethics is published in London.
The Irish press is regulated by an ombudsman with statutory backing, a model believed to be favoured by Lord Leveson, but critics of state regulation have been quick to highlight Walsh’s case to underline the limitations of Ireland’s ombudsman system.
In August a high court judge ordered the Sun to hand over documents relating to the story to Mr Walsh including hotel bookings, bank statements, emails and recorded phone calls. The orders apply to the Sun’s British editor, Dominic Mohan, then Irish editor Michael McNiff and showbiz editor Gordon Smart.
In the aftermath of the ruling Irish editor Mick McNiffe left the paper and was replaced by Paul Hudson, the assistant editor in London. Dominic Mohan warned staff the Irish Sun faced “significant changes”.
Mr Walsh has said that no amount of money would compensate him for what he had been through but was satisfied with his decisive settlement:
“I have the utmost respect and time for most journalists with whom I’ve always enjoyed a good relationship,” he said.
“I am therefore absolutely gutted and traumatised that these allegations against me should have been published, particularly as I had made it clear at the time there was not one iota of truth in them, that I was totally bewildered as to who would have made up this type of story.”
“Although the perpetrator has since been convicted as a result of concocting the allegations this didn’t stop the story being spread all around the world as a result of The Sun’s headlines.”
Eoin McCullough, senior counsel for News Group Newspapers, read a statement to the High Court in Dublin apologising to Walsh.