Patricia Barnett and Patrick Murphy leaving Letterkenny Circuit Court (Photo: North West Newspix)
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A man who falsely claimed on Facebook that his neighbour was having an affair with another woman has been ordered to pay more than €32,000 in damages.
Anthony Downes also referred on the social media site to the man’s wife as being overweight and that her exercise regime was not working.
The false claims were among a tirade of insults launched against Patricia Barnett and her husband, RNLI volunteer Paddy Murphy, for no apparent reason.
Downes admitted defamation at Letterkenny Circuit Civil Court in Co Donegal today.
Mr Murphy told the court: “He (Downes) was indicating that I was having an affair. That was totally and utterly untrue.”
Downes said: “I fully and sincerely apologise for the harm done, for my unjust attack on their reputation and for the nasty nature of the comments.”
Judge James O’Donoghue described the attack as “scurrilous and reckless”.
The couple, from Buncrana in Donegal, took a defamation action against Downes, which was settled today.
Downes, who did not appear in court, admitted writing the posts and apologised unreservedly to the couple.
Mrs Barnett, a podiatrist, 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 her husband, of The Crescent, Buncrana, of having an affair with another woman and also referred to her as being overweight, saying that her exercise regime was not working.
Ms Barnett said that she took screenshots of the Facebook posts, which appeared on February 5 and 6, 2015, and later 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 caused.
Mr Murphy, who is his wife’s office manager and also an active member of the RNLI in Buncrana, said he was horrified by the Facebook postings.
He added that the post had been shared nine times on Facebook and was also liked a number of times.
Anthony Downes (Photo: North West Newspix)
He said that he and his wife had to speak to their 15-year-old twins about the incident and explain to them that it was not true.
Barrister for the couple, Patricia McCalum, instructed by solicitor David Henry, said they were seeking damages.
Barrister for Downes, Mr Peter Nolan said his client had agreed to give an apology to Ms Barnett and Mr Murphy.
The apology, read to the court, said: “I, Anthony Downes, The Bungalow, The Crescent, Buncrana, Co Donegal, am responsible and I accept responsibility for the posting on Facebook of comments 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 fully 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 were 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 had borne some ill will or 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.
“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 said: “The court is satisfied that both were wronged and their names seriously sullied.”
He awarded Ms Barnett €20,000 in damages and Mr Murphy a further €12,500 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”.
“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,” he said.
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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