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Thursday, 30 March, 2000, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
'Committee' filmmaker wins libel battle

A Northern Ireland documentary filmmaker has been awarded libel damages of 145,000 against the Sunday Times newspaper.

Sean McPhilemy had sued the newspaper at the London High Court for claiming that his Channel 4 Dispatches programme, The Committee, was a hoax.

He brought his case because he felt his reputation as a journalist had been blackened by the allegation and his sources of income had been damaged.

The programme told of a loyalist committee including high-level public figures in Northern Ireland, which the programme said had conspired to murder Catholics.

The jury's verdict after seven days of deliberation was unanimous.

When asked if they had found that the Sunday Times article was defamatory of Sean McPhilemy the jury replied "yes."

Seven day deliberation

When asked had the Sunday Times proved on the balance of probabilities that there was no Ulster Central Co-ordinating Committee as described in the programme, they said the newspaper had not.

They were then asked had the newspaper proved that Mr McPhilemy was deliberately setting out to mislead the television viewers in the programme.

To that they also answered "no."

The award of 145,000 was 5,000 less than the ceiling, which had been indicated by the trial judge.

The trial has lasted ten weeks and has made legal history for a civil action of its kind.

Mr McPhilemy, 52, wiped away tears as the verdict was announced and nodded his thanks to the jury.

He said outside the court that he felt "fully vindicated".

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