Irishman who accused neighbours of having an affair and being overweight must pay €30k for defaming them on Facebook

A COUPLE have been awarded more than £27,000 in damages against a neighbour who defamed them on Facebook.

Anthony Downes launched a tirade of insults against Patricia Barnett and her husband Paddy Murphy for no apparent reason.

The couple, from Buncrana in Co Donegal, took a defamation action against Downes which was heard at Letterkenny Circuit Civil Court today.

Downes, who did not appear in court, admitted the action and had agreed to apologise unreservedly to the couple.

Pediatrist Patricia told the court that she barely knew Downes and knew of no reason why he would have posted a number of attacks against her on her private and business Facebook pages.

The court heard how Downes accused husband Paddy of having an affair with another woman.

He also referred to her as being overweight, saying that her exercise regime was not working.

Ms Barnett said that she has screenshot the Facebook posts, which had appeared on February 5 and 6, 2015, and had then deleted them before contacting Gardai.

She said the posts had both hurt her personally and professionally and said she had later met clients who had not come back to her business because of the embarrassment the postings had caused.

Mr Murphy, who is his wife's officer manager and also an active member of the RNLI in Buncrana, said he was horrified by the Facebook postings.

He said: "He (Downes) was indicating that I was having an affair. That was totally and utterly untrue."

Mr Murphy added that the post had been shared nine times on Facebook and was also liked a number of times.

He said that himself and his wife had to speak to their twins aged 15 about the incident and explain to them that it was not true.

The couple's barrister Patricia McCalumsaid they were seeking damages on behalf of their clients.

Downes' barrister Peter Nolan said his client had agreed to give an apology to the pair.

The apology read: "I, Anthony Downes, The Bungalow, The Crescent, Buncrana, Co Donegal am responsible and I accept responsibility for the posting on Facebook of comments and about Patricia Barnett, Patrick Murphy and Ann Harkin, which comments were irresponsible and false and without doubt took the good name and reputation of the persons mentioned, namely Patricia Barnett, Patrick Murphy and Anne Harkin.

"I full and sincerely apologise for the harm done, for my unjust attack on their reputation and for the nasty nature of the comments.

"The people named are the people of the highest calibre and character and on my part I accept that where they to be believed they would drag these people's names through the mud and bring them down in the eyes of the persons reading these remarks.

"I have no rational explanation for the posting of the comments. I borne some ill will of grudge to these people and that ill will was taken out by posting the remarks on Facebook.

"I am ashamed and embarrassed by the harm and distress caused to my neighbours.



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"I promise faithfully that there will never be a repetition of the behaviour or publications and I would ask anybody that read the posts to ignore them and to continue to hold the targets of my remarks in the high esteem in which they were held prior to my unjust interference in their lives."

Judge James O'Donoghue described the Facebook posts written by Downes as "scurrilous and reckless".

He said: "The court is satisfied that both were wronged and their names seriously sullied."

He awarded Ms Barnett £17,000 (20,000 euros) in damages and Mr Murphy a further £10,000 (11,000 euros) in damages and ordered that one of them receive their costs in the case.

He also issued a general warning that the posting of Facebook comments was sometimes a "highly dangerous activity".

He said: "People perhaps with alcohol late at night can post these remarks and injure people's character.

"It is a highly dangerous activity and can result in long term hurt to families and people's good names and this is an example of that."

Ms Anne Harkin, the third plantiff in the case is due to have her case heard by videolink form Australia in the coming days.

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