Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has accepted “substantial damages” and an apology for a website article alleging there were strong grounds to suspect he told lies about a transfer deal.
Paul Hackney, a solicitor representing O’Neill, told Mr Justice Eady at the High Court in London that 365 Media Group made the allegations in May 2008 on its website under the headline “Porkies?”.
“It now appears that the defendant had republished a libellous allegation from the back page of The Daily Mirror published earlier that day.”
The Daily Mirror article, headed “Fair Kop”, claimed that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez had exposed O’Neill by revealing they had spoken about Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry transferring to Liverpool. The paper published a clarification on its inside back page when it was advised of the libel.
He said 365 Media Group, publisher of Football365.com, had accepted the “Porkies” article defamed O’Neill and it had been removed immediately from the website.
“The allegations have caused the claimant severe damage to his reputation and serious embarrassment and distress.
“The matter was made worse in the claimant’s eyes because the article complained of was first published on May 9, just 16 days after the defendant had made a public apology in open court in respect of the publication of an earlier libellous article concerning the claimant’s alleged transfer dealings which the defendant accepted was completely untrue.
“It appeared to the claimant that there was a campaign by some of the employees of the defendant to try and undermine the claimant’s reputation.
“The defendant has since confirmed to the claimant that following an investigation it concluded that there was no campaign against the claimant.”
He said the defendant accepts that the allegations are totally without foundation and a lawyer representing 365 Media Group was in court to offer an unqualified apology for publishing the article and has offered to pay a substantial sum in damages and legal costs.
Football365.com apologised and paid damages to O’Neill in February after it published a reader’s comment headlined: “Martin O’Neill is a total idiot”.
The comment appeared in the site’s Mailbox section, where readers are encouraged to send “opinions, rants, praise or abuse”. They are moderated and edited before publication.
Last April, O’Neill won damages from Football365 after it followed up a Daily Record story that accused him of “tapping-up” Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
As well as Football365, he has successfully sued the Daily Record, The Observer, and the Mail on Sunday in the past eight years.
In 2004, he also won damages from the BBC, after it falsely accused him of “a conflict of interests” due to his shares in a football agent company.