Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has accepted a formal apology and “substantial” damages at London’s High Court after a football website branded him a liar over comments made during last summer’s transfer speculation linking club captain Gareth Barry to Liverpool.
It is the second time in just over a year that O’Neill has won damages from the Football 365 website, which last April apologised and stumped up damages over earlier allegations that he had ‘tapped up’ Artur Boruc, the goalkeeper at his former club, Celtic.
This time O’Neill complained about an article published on the website at www.football365.com only 16 days after the previous High Court hearing.
His solicitor, Paul Hackney, told judge Mr Justice David Eady today that this article, headlined ‘Porkies?’, alleged there were strong grounds to suspect O’Neill of telling lies in his public statements about the Gareth Barry transfer saga.
He said that it appeared that the website had republished a libellous allegation from the back page of the Daily Mirror earlier that day, implying that O’Neill had been disingenuous in complaining that Liverpool were seeking to conduct transfer negotiations in public when he had conducted private negotiations with Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez 20 days earlier.
He said that when the Daily Mirror was advised of this libel, it published a clarification on its inside back page.
However, he said, it was not until November - after O’Neill had launched these proceedings - that Football 365 published an apology on its home page.
He said: “These allegations have caused the claimant severe damage to his reputation and serious embarrassment and distress. This matter was made worse in the claimant’s eyes because the article complained of was first published on 9 May, just 16 days after the defendant had made a public apology in open court in respect of the publication of an earlier libellous article.
“It appeared to the claimant that there was a campaign by some of the employees of the defendant to try and undermine the claimant’s reputation. The defendant has since confirmed to the claimant that, following an investigation, it concluded that there was no campaign against the claimant.”
He added: “I am pleased to inform you that the defendant now accepts that these allegations are totally without foundation and should not have been published. The defendant is here today to give the claimant an unqualified apology for publishing the article and has offered to pay a substantial sum in damages and his legal costs.”
Victoria Jolliffe, counsel for 365 Media Group Ltd, the website’s publishers, said: “Through me, 365.com confirm its acceptance that the allegations made in the article are without foundation and offers its sincere apologies to Mr O’Neill for the distress and anxiety caused to him.”