The owner of Ramsey’s dilapidated ‘Bleak House’ has been ordered to pay £10,000 libel damages to an island lawyer.
Deemster Sharon Roberts told Michael Morris that his ‘nasty’ defamation of Jason Stanley ‘struck at the heart of his professional reputation and livelihood in the Isle of Man’.
Mr Morris, whose company owns a freehold interest in Bleak House on Mooragh Promenade, had published his defamatory comments in the self-styled Moorage Promenade Newsletter which was widely distributed in Ramsey.
His comments had been directed at Mr Stanley in connection with his role as lawyer acting for a couple, Mr and the late Mrs Curruthers, who retained a leasehold interest in the property.
He accused the advocate of professional misconduct and even falsely branded him a fraudster.
In a judgment in May when a counter claim by Mr Morris was struck out as having no merit, it was established that Mr Stanley had never had any personal interest in Bleak House and had powers to compel his clients to take action to form a management company to get the property renovated.
Mr Stanley, in his evidence, said he was ‘sick to the back teeth’ of the defamation and made it plain in his evidence that an allegation of fraud was beyond endurance.
He said Mr Morris has escalated his defamatory statements and showed no intention of stopping – and he blamed him for his lack of clients in Ramsey.
In his evidence, Mr Morris said he had every intention of continuing to publish material about Mr Stanley, even if there was an injunction preventing him from doing so.
He said the lawyer should ‘do the right thing and sort out the fiasco’ – and intended to continue his campaign to restore Bleak House. He argued the comments were not defamatory as he believed them to be true.
But in her judgment, Deemster Roberts said Mr Morris’s defence of justification had ‘failed in all respects’ and found Mr Stanley’s claim of defamation proven’.
She said the defamatory statements were are of the ‘utmost severity’ and Mr Morris could ‘not have said anything worse’.
The Deemster added: ‘This has been a prolonged extensive and thoroughly nasty defamation of Mr Stanley striking at the heart of his professional reputation and livelihood in the Isle of Man. I have no doubt that this was the intention of Mr Morris.
‘He has carried it out without any evidence whatsoever that any of it was true. He is not only lacking in remorse, he is gleeful and revels in it. It appears to amuse him. It shows a shocking disregard for Mr Stanley in any respect.’
She ordered Mr Morris to pay Mr Stanley £10,000 – the most that can be awarded in the small claims court – by 4pm on October 8.
The Deemster also made a restraining order against Mr Morris, perpetually banning him from making further defamatory comments.