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February 6, 2015

Former head of Northern Ireland Civil Service wins damages from Belfast News Letter

By PA Media Lawyer

A former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has accepted damages and an apology from the Belfast News Letter.

Sir Gerry Loughran sued the newspaper's publisher over its coverage of a Public Account Committee report that criticised a company set up to provide a cutting-edge building for new biotech firms.

Loughran, also a former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Economic Development, had sued the newspaper's publisher, Century Newspapers, over stories which appeared in the News Letter on 23 May 2012, under the headlines "Call in PSNI over suspected fraud, say MLAs" and "Retired top civil servants involved", and on its website, his solicitor, Paul Tweed told the High Court in Belfast.

The offending allegations were also the subject of a tweet by the journalist concerned, said Tweed.

He went on: "Without prejudice to the defendant's right to publish matters of high public interest, the defendant nonetheless accepts that some readers may have inferred wrongly from the subject articles that Sir Gerry Loughran, a former Head of the Civil Service, was somehow implicated in the 'suspected fraud' referred to in the articles.

"It was never the defendant's intention to suggest any involvement by Sir Gerry in the 'suspected fraud' and it unreservedly accepts that Sir Gerry has not been guilty of any wrongdoing or impropriety, and acknowledges his impeccable reputation and many years of public service."

Tweed said the publisher was happy to make this clear, and apologised to Sir Gerry for any distress these references to him caused, and had also agreed to pay appropriate damages and costs.

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After the hearing, Tweed said: "My client is very satisfied with what has been a total vindication of his reputation following this comprehensive apology before the High Court this morning, regarding a reference to him that should not have been published in the first place."

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