Northern Ireland

Phil Flanagan takes legal action against assembly's insurers

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

A Sinn Féin MLA who was ordered to pay nearly £50,000 damages for posting a defamatory tweet about a political rival is taking legal action against the insurance firm used by the assembly.

Phil Flanagan says he was unaware his tweet posted about Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott was libellous and claims it took the form of a question.

Mr Flanagan is taking legal action against an insurance firm over its refusal to provide cover for the libel award against him.

Last week, a judge awarded Mr Elliott £48,750 compensation following a tweet by Mr 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.

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.

The judge that Mr Flanagan's tweet was grossly defamatory.

Legal action culminated in the acceptance of an offer to make amends.

That involved Mr Flanagan recognising the defamatory and baseless allegations, formally apologising and agreeing to pay compensation and costs.

In an agreed statement he accepted his tweet was untrue, wholly without foundation and apologising for all offence caused.

A High Court judge has 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.

Image caption Mr Flanagan said it was never his intention to defame Mr Elliott

The court heard on Thursday that cover provided for libel and slander claims, capped at £1m annually, excludes any cases where MLAs know their comments are defamatory.

Mr Flanagan told how he sent his tweet from Stormont's car park after listening to the radio show on his journey to parliament buildings.

Asked by his barrister if he intended to defame Mr Elliott, the Sinn Féin MLA replied: "Certainly not."

He told the judge that it was only after taking legal advice that he realised the seriousness of the situation.

During cross examination counsel for AIG Europe Ltd put it to him that he knew his tweet was "outrageously defamatory".

But Mr Flanagan insisted: "I framed it in the form of a question, thinking I wasn't making an allegation."

The case continues.

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