Jury awards man €300,000 over ‘severe’ campaign against his good name
Posted on 25th March 2020 at 23:02
Chris Gordon of the Irish Horse racing Regulatory Board took case against trainers’ association
An employee of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has been awarded €300,000 damages by a High Court jury against the Irish Racehorse Trainers’ Association (IRTA).
The jury found that Chris Gordon, head of security with the board, previously known as the Turf Club, was subject of an “orchestrated and severe campaign” against his good name by the IRTA.
Mr Gordon claimed he was defamed in a letter about his role in an inspection of the yard of horse trainer Liz Doyle, a daughter of former Fine Gael politician Avril Doyle, who was also present during the inspection.
Mr Gordon (60) sued the IRTA over a letter from its solicitor to a senior Turf Club steward. He claimed it falsely alleged that he attempted to entrap Liz Doyle into an admission of wrongdoing.
After nearly four hours of deliberation on Wednesday, the jury found in Mr Gordon’s favour in relation to nine of 10 questions it was asked to consider.
The court heard the IRTA’s solicitor’s letter arose after Liz Doyle’s Wexford yard was inspected in March 2014 by Department of Agriculture and Turf Club officials as part of an investigation related to the use of performance enhancing drugs in racehorses. The Doyles later complained about a document that Mr Gordon had shown them during the inspection.
He said the IRTA subsequently defamed him when its chairman Noel Meade was quoted in an interview with the Irish Field in August 2014 as saying members were angered by the conduct of some officials during inspections carried out at horse trainers’ premises as part of the investigation.
Mr Gordon, a former garda superintendent who became head of security with the Turf Club in 2010, said IRTA committee member Michael Grassick made false claims about his conduct following complaints from two other trainers.
It was also claimed Mr Meade, Mr Grassick and another IRTA member met with representatives of the Turf Club and maliciously published statements seeking Mr Gordon’s removal.
Mr Gordon said as a result the Turf Club held an inquiry which concluded he had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, he said he has been restricted in his duties since 2015 and effectively “sent to Coventry” when it comes to race meetings. The IRTA denied the claims.
The jury found Mr Gordon proved the IRTA did not have an honest belief in the truth of the entrapment allegation which was first made in a letter from the IRTA’s late solicitor addressed to a senior racing steward.
It found Mr Gordon proved that Mr Meade was speaking on behalf of the IRTA when he was quoted in the Irish Field article and that a reader would have taken those statements to refer to Mr Gordon.
It found Mr Gordon proved the IRTA, without any honest belief in the allegations made by Liz and Avril Doyle, caused them to be repeated to members of the Turf Club at a meeting in Newbridge, Co Kildare in August 2014.
It found it had been proven that Mr Grassick, in bad faith and for the purpose of injuring Mr Gordon, passed on to Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan a complaint from a trainer concerning Mr Gordon.
On the basis of the answers to those questions, the jury assessed general damages at €200,000 and aggravated damages at €50,000.
It found he was entitled to exemplary damages of another €50,000 because the defendant published the defamatory words maliciously, knowing them to be false and/or reckless as to whether they were true and having no honest belief they were true.
It therefore found the said publications constituted an orchestrated an severe campaign against Mr Gordon’s good name.
Mr Gordon said afterwards he was “very relieved” and thanked the jury.
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