Northern Ireland

Elliott: almost £50k damages over defamatory Flanagan tweet

Tom Elliot has been awarded £48,750 compensation over a tweet by Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Tom Elliot has been awarded £48,750 compensation over a tweet by Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan

The High Court in Belfast has awarded almost £50k in damages to a former Ulster Unionist leader over a defamatory message posted on Twitter.

Mr Justice Stephens awarded Tom Elliott £48,750 compensation following a tweet by Sinn Féin's Phil Flanagan.

The Fermanagh MLA posted the message after Mr Elliott appeared on a BBC radio programme in May 2014.

Mr Elliott served in the UDR for 10 years, between 1982 and 1992. He is now the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Image caption Sinn Féin's Phil Flanagan posted the tweet in 2014

Mr Flanagan's tweet read: "Tom Elliott talks to @StephenNolan about the past.

"I wonder if he will reveal how many people he harassed or shot as a member of the UDR."

The tweet was taken down from Mr Flanagan's Twitter account within an hour being posted.

However, Mr Elliot said that, despite the tweet being removed, it remained accessible on the internet, social media sites and political blogs.

On Wednesday Mr Justice Stephens ruled that Mr Flanagan's tweet was grossly defamatory.

The judge said: "To state that a senior politician, who had been the leader of a political party in Northern Ireland, was responsible for harassing and shooting people during his service with the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment)... is a most serious libel."

Deciding that the comments merited £75,000 in damages, the judge reduced that figure by 35% to reflect steps since taken by Mr Flanagan, including his ultimate apology and offer to pay damages.

He awarded £48,750, but put a stay on any payout until Mr Flanagan resolves his legal action with insurers used by assembly members over a refusal to indemnify him.

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