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Fairfax Makes PM An Offer She Can't Refuse

Fairfax Makes PM An Offer She Can't Refuse

How the Prime Minister And APN Employees Came To Be Defending Fairfax

By Kevin List - Scoop Media's chief reporter.

The reason that the Prime Minister had been required to provide a brief of evidence for Fairfax's lawyers this year was that former Police Commissioner, Peter Doone had finally managed to get a five year old defamation case against the Sunday Star-Times to court. After court papers revealed that the Prime Minister was involved in his battle with the newspaper, Mr Doone dropped his case against the Sunday Star-Times and set his sights on suing the Prime Minister.

In a recent interview with the Herald on Sunday regarding his plans to sue the Prime Minister, Mr Doone brushed off the huge costs of taking a defamation case by pointing out to the reporter "What price your reputation?"

The Herald on Sunday article also pointed out that, according to Mr Doone, the reason the now aborted action against the Sunday Star-Times hadn't managed to get to court in five years was because Mr Doone and his wife had been out of New Zealand on business for some of that time.

It seems that from late last year Mr Doone considered himself in a position to begin defamation proceedings against the Sunday-Star Times. The Sunday Star-Times owners Fairfax, for their part can’t have been pleased to discover another aggrieved policeman seeking damages against the paper. In August 2004, a Sunday Star-Times newspaper column and article criticising former police officers who testified against Senior Constable Keith Abbott resulted in a $780,000 award for defamation.

This defamation fiasco may have been behind Fairfax’s desire to have the Prime Minister give evidence once Mr Doone began pushing for a court date regarding his own score with the Sunday Star-Times.

Fairfax’s current lawyers 'Izard Weston' are at least the second set of lawyers to become involved in proceedings concerning Mr Doone and the Sunday Star-Times.

According to former Sunday Star-Times editor, Sue Chetwin, an offer was made through a law firm called ‘Oakley Moran’ to pay Mr Doone $10,000 and proffer an apology for an article related to him published in the Sunday Star-Times in January 2000.

Ms Chetwin who is now employed by Fairfax’s rival APN, had been called upon by Fairfax this year to help defend a defamation suit launched by Mr Doone relating to the same article that ‘Oakley Moran’ had been offering an apology and $10,000 towards his legal costs in 2000.

Ms Chetwin’s own brief of evidence explained how she, the journalist in the contested article, Oskar Alley, and the Sunday Star-Times former news editor, Shane Currie (now editor of the Herald on Sunday) had all been involved in verifying the contested story regarding Mr Doone.

Whilst Ms Chetwin maintained that the paper had done nothing wrong, especially as it had verified the story with the Prime Minister, in her brief of evidence she concedes “it was felt that the factual accuracy as to a point of detail – should be corrected and that any costs incurred by Mr Doone in connection with that factual inaccuracy should be met.”

In Ms Chetwin’s opinion the offer of $10,000 to Mr Doone was more than generous.

Mr Doone was seeking rather more than, $10,000 – in Mr Doone’s opinion the wrong done to him by the Sunday Star-Times was worth around $850,000.

The Prime Minister also seemed a bit put out by Fairfax. At her post-cabinet conference she left assorted media in no doubt that she considered she had been press-ganged into assisting Fairfax and the Sunday Star-Times. The Prime Minister’s lawyer had been trawling through his communications with Fairfax’s current lawyers, Izard Weston and the Prime Minister now considered she could give an accurate description of the events that had led to her being outed as its source of information.

“They ‘Fairfax’ first contacted my lawyer on December 10 2004, there were a range of contacts and on 28 February 2005 they stated to my lawyer that they would subpoena me if that were my preference. They were advised in March that it was not my wish to be involved in the case. Later in March they advised that they would shortly serve a subpoena on me. They asked my lawyer if there was any objection to serving a subpoena, and sought details of the arrangements to be made to serve it.”

“I determined that I would prefer there not to be a subpoena and that we would prepare a brief of evidence in the circumstances. Their lawyers agreed with that and advised that a subpoena was to be served but would be withheld. A little later in March the defence stated that they would inform Mr Doone’s counsel that they intended to call me and, that was to be my subpoena, but that I had agreed that I would meet my obligation to the court and that a brief was to be provided. Fairfax advised 8 April 2005 that I would attend the court at their requirement probably without [the] service of a subpoena.”

“On 12 April a subpoena was served by Fairfax on the former Attorney-General, Margaret Wilson and that subpoena was dated 5 March 2005. You can see that we were told that a subpoena would be served if a brief wasn’t provided. Not only did I not volunteer to take part, they were advised by my lawyer, that I did not wish to be involved in the case.”

Following this exhaustive re-cap of how the Prime Minister came to provide a brief of evidence for Fairfax, a journalist associated with a Fairfax newspaper mentioned an agreement suggested by Fairfax for maintaining the Prime Minister’s confidentiality. The Prime Minister’s reply left no-one the wiser - fortunately a journalist associated with Fairfax’s competitors the Herald (owned by APN) managed to educe a fuller response from the Prime Minister.

“I understand that Fairfax in attempting to justify its position to its own journalists claims that I had a range of options, including that I could have sought to give evidence in confidence. I think all of you can imagine the Doone case taking place in the High Court and the Prime Minister slipping in and out of the back door…please!” She said.

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