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Irish News journalist settles libel action against ex-DUP politician over Facebook and blog posts

A Belfast journalist has won an apology and a charity donation from a former Democratic Unionist Party politician over false and “seriously defamatory” posts made about her online and on social media.

Irish News security correspondent and columnist Allison Morris said she hopes the victory will help to deter online harassment against women by showing it does have consequences.

Morris (pictured, left) brought the case against Nelson McCausland, a DUP MLA (member of the legislative assembly) from 2003 to 2017, over posts made on his blog and Facebook page in April and May 2016.

The offending posts, written by an anonymous user on the blog but then linked to on McCausland’s Facebook page, wrongly alleged Morris had been guilty of inappropriate conduct both personally and professionally.

The libel case was settled yesterday ahead of a planned trial at Belfast’s High Court.

A statement read in open court on McCausland’s behalf said: “He [McCausland] accepts that there was no truth in any of the allegations and imputations contained in them and regrets that they were ever posted.

“Accordingly, the defendant apologises unreservedly to the plaintiff for the fact that such articles were posted on his Facebook page and blog and, as a mark of his regret, shall be making an agreed donation to a mutually agreed charity.”

It has not yet been confirmed which charity which will receive the donation.

Morris said in a statement: “I welcome this apology and would hope that it sends out a very strong message that women in the media or in any other public role are not open season for online abuse of a misogynistic nature.

“I would like to thank my solicitor Laura Cunningham, my editor Noel Doran and Irish News managing director Dominic Fitzpatrick for their support during what was a very difficult and distressing time.”

Cunningham (pictured, right) added that Morris was “very satisfied with the total vindication” she has received.

Morris, who has worked at the Irish News since 2007, has previously written about the online abuse sent to increasing numbers of women, including herself.

“Women in the public eye, particularly politicians, have become targets for online trolling that has turned a popular and useful platform like Twitter into a toxic place at times,” she wrote last year.

She added: “[Twitter] claim they will immediately remove all targeted accounts – that is accounts set up purely to abuse individuals – but they don’t. I should know, I’ve reported enough of them.”

Picture: Alan Erwin

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