Whilst waiting for the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle to ratify his re-selection as a candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, at the second time of trying, notorious tweeter Phil Flanagan, MLA, has discovered the cost of his “grossly defamatory” libel against former UUP leader, Tom Elliot, then MLA, now MP for FST. As the BBC reports
The High Court in Belfast has awarded almost £50k in damages to a former Ulster Unionist leader over a defamatory message posted on Twitter.
Mr Justice Stephens awarded Tom Elliott £48,750 compensation following a tweet by Sinn Féin’s Phil Flanagan.
That’s a bill of £48,750 plus costs.
And, as I’ve already explained, the NI Assembly’s public liability insurance never covered the libelling of another MLA.
Adds The RTÉ report notes
Mr Justice Stephens ruled that Phil Flanagan’s untrue tweet about political rival Tom Elliott’s conduct during his previous career as a soldier was grossly defamatory.
The “baseless” allegation was aggravated by Mr Flanagan’s failure to publish an apology until the former UUP leader took him to court, he held.
The judge said: “To state that a senior politician, who had been the leader of a political party in Northern Ireland, was responsible for harassing and shooting people during his service with the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment)… is a most serious libel.”
Deciding that the comments merited £75,000 in damages, the judge reduced that figure by 35% to reflect steps since taken by Mr Flanagan, including his ultimate apology and offer to pay damages.
He awarded £48,750, but put a stay on any payout until Mr Flanagan resolves his legal action with insurers used by Assembly members over a refusal to indemnify him.