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McPhilemy Wins U.K. Libel Suit
Calvin Reid -- 4/3/00

In what appears to be an unprecedented U.K. civil action, a London jury has ruled against the Sunday Times of London and awarded £145,000 ($246,000) in libel damages to Sean McPhilemy, an Irish filmmaker, journalist and author.

The suit stemmed from McPhilemy's TV documentary (and subsequent book) called The Committee, which charged that a secret committee composed of the police, Protestant hit men and prominent Northern Irish politicians and businessmen had conspired to murder random Catholics and suspected Irish Republicans in Northern Ireland.

The jury's ruling said that the Sunday Times had defamed the Irish journalist by calling his documentary on political murder a hoax. In addition, the jury also ruled that the Times had not proved that the murder conspiracy did not exist. The Times may also be liable for more than £1 million ($1.7 million) in litigation costs. According to reports in the U.K., the Times is considering an appeal.

McPhilemy hailed the ruling and called again for an "independent, international inquiry into allegations raised in the documentary and in my book."

The ruling was hailed by McPhilemy's U.S. lawyer, Russell Smith, who is defending the journalist against a $100-million libel suit filed by figures named in McPhilemy's book The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, published in 1998 by Roberts Rinehart Publishers. The suit is being heard in Washington, D.C.

Smith told PW that the U.K. ruling is not binding in the U.S. However, Smith has filed to have the U.S. suit dismissed and said the U.K. ruling would be "influential."

Smith said the U.S. court will likely rule on his motion to dismiss the suit against McPhilemy in early May.
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