Northern Ireland

Sunday World wins 'Scrooge' article appeal

The Kilmorey Arms, which went into administration shortly before Christmas 2014, is now under new ownership
Image caption The Kilmorey Arms, which went into administration shortly before Christmas 2014, is now under new ownership

A newspaper that was ordered to pay £50,000 in libel damages over a story referring to a hotelier as "Scrooge" has won its appeal against the award.

The Sunday World printed the article about Gordon Coulter after his hotel - the Kilmorey Arms in Kilkeel - went into administration in December 2014.

The article stated that he had "been branded a Scrooge for putting his staff on the street a week before Christmas".

The Court of Appeal has set aside the libel ruling and ordered a retrial.

Mr Coulter, 85, was originally awarded the payout by the High Court last year.

'Fictional character'

He took legal action against the Sunday World after it reported on the temporary closure of his hotel, which has since reopened under new ownership.

The hotelier claimed the "Scrooge" article had portrayed him as mean and callous towards staff, implying that he had money but was not prepared to spend it to save their jobs.

The High Court ruled this was serious libel of a respected businessman who had no other option but to put the company into administration.

However, the Court of Appeal has now ruled that the original judge had "misdirected himself" and wrongly interpreted the description of Mr Coulter in the newspaper article as statements of fact.

Senior judges agreed with the newspaper's barrister that the "Scrooge" reference was a figure of speech not to be taken literally.

"Obviously the person is not literally Scrooge because that is a fictional character in a Dickens novella," Lord Justice Gillen told the Court of Appeal.

"In terms it amounts to an applied conclusion or judgment on that person and as such amounts to comment rather than a statement of fact.

"Similar situations might arise where someone is termed a 'Hitler' or a 'Trotsky'," Lord Justice Gillen added.

"We therefore conclude that the order cannot stand and should be set aside. The proper course is to direct a retrial of the action."

The Sunday World is also to receive its legal costs after its successful appeal.