Monday, May 27, 2024

Enoch Burke says newspaper article about him was a ‘malicious hit job’ |

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Jailed teacher Enoch Burke has said the Sunday Independent conducted a “malicious hit job” by portraying him as someone who repeatedly expresses his religious beliefs to the point that people cannot bear it and might resort to physical violence.

Speaking at the close of his defamation action on Friday, Mr Burke told the High Court the newspaper made a “grave and serious libel” and defamed him in an October 2022 article about his movement within prison.

The German and history teacher had been jailed for the first time the previous month over his refusal to comply with a court order requiring him to stay away from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath, from which he had been suspended and was later dismissed.

Issues with the evangelical Christian’s employment arose after he publicly objected to being told to refer to a student using they/them pronouns.

Mr Burke was brought to the Four Courts from Mountjoy Prison, where he has spent more than 340 nights, on each of the four days of his defamation action against Mediahuis Ireland, as publisher of the Sunday Independent; its editor Alan English and reporter Ali Bracken.

After the hearing, Mr Justice Rory Mulcahy thanked the parties for cooperating during the trial and said he would deliver his judgment at a later date.

The defendants deny Mr Burke was defamed by the article but acknowledge “minor” errors occurred.

They have pointed to an apology the newspaper published in print and online in January 2023 that clarified Mr Burke’s cell change was for “operational reasons only and not for the reasons stated in the article”.

The story of October 9th, 2022, claimed Mr Burke had been moved to a new jail cell for his own safety, as he might have “got a beating” after “annoying other prisoners” and “repeatedly expressing his outspoken views and beliefs”.

Senior counsel for the defendants, Ronan Lupton, submitted there is an “elephant in the room” in that Mr Burke comes from Mountjoy to vindicate his good name.

Before the court is a contemnor: someone who will not comply with an order of the court while asking the “very same court” to grant orders that vindicate him, said counsel.

Mr Lupton, appearing with Lewis Mooney, said the “thicket of printouts” from Mr Burke bearing social media comments about him are inadmissible as evidence as no one was called to court to speak to their truth.

Mr Justice Mulcahy commented that a “striking” feature of the case is that the newspaper’s position is “in effect that it did not matter whether this story was true or not”.

Mr Lupton said he could not plead the truth as confidential sources could not be called as witnesses.

Journalist Ali Bracken outside court. Photo: Collins

Earlier, Ms Bracken, the Sunday Independent journalist who wrote the October 9th article, said she confirmed her information with two sources, neither of whom she could speak about.

Unfortunately, it transpired the piece incorrectly reported Mr Burke’s location within the jail, she said, adding that she would consider this to be a “minor” matter.

Cross-examining, Mr Burke asked her if she accepts that it was false to say he was moved for his own safety. She said: “I find it difficult to accept, but I accept the newspaper clarified and apologised for certain matters.”

Mr Burke quoted from a letter from the Irish Prison Service that said he was moved for operational reasons and that no other issues were considered.

He asked Ms Bracken if she accepted there were no other issues, to which she responded: “I accept that this is the Irish Prison Service’s position.”

She said she stands over aspects of her article but there is a difficulty because confidential sources cannot give evidence in court. She denied his suggestion the article represented her “going out to bat” for Wilson’s Hospital School.

In his closing submissions to the court, Mr Burke said the way the defence has been conducted has led to the defamation “percolating” again during the trial.

He said the newspaper’s witnesses refused to accept the official statement of the prison service while in the witness box. This demonstrates “disdain for a State body”, he said, adding that the publisher has not pleaded the defence of truth.

He submitted he had a good reputation but this was taken from him.

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