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libel actions High Court allows service of proceedings on journalist Eoghan Harris and Twitter

Journalists Aoife Moore and Allison Morris are seeking to identify who was behind accounts they say published and retweeted defamatory material about them

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Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

TWO prominent journalists have been given permission by the High Court for the short service of an application aimed at forcing columnist Eoghan Harris and Twitter to disclose information about several social media accounts.

Aoife Moore and Allison Morris are seeking to identify who was behind accounts they say published and retweeted defamatory material about them.

Mr Justice Senan Allen was told the applications for what are known as Norwich Pharmacal orders were part of libel proceedings being taken by the two journalists.

As part of the cases, interlocutory orders are to be sought restraining the republication of the material complained of.

Mr Harris was dropped as a columnist by the Sunday Independent last week after he admitted to tweeting anonymously from an account under the name Barbara J Pym. He has said “five or six” other people helped him with the drafting of tweets but he alone published them.

The newspaper’s editor, Alan English, said the account frequently went beyond what he considered to be fair and reasonable comment.

However, Mr Harris has denied that tweets relating to Ms Moore, a political correspondent with the Irish Examiner, and Ms Morris, a crime correspondent with the Belfast Telegraph, were defamatory, abusive or misogynistic.

He has also denied involvement in eight other suspended accounts Twitter says were linked to the Pym account.

Tom Hogan SC, for the two journalists, told the court each case was broadly similar.

“They arise out of what we say are defamatory tweets published by the first defendant [Mr Harris] on Twitter over the course of approximately the last year,” he said.

“The defamatory tweets were posted using anonymous Twitter accounts. Mr Harris has admitted that he was responsible, or contributed to, one of the particular accounts, and has said that five or six other people, who he refuses to identify, were involved in contributing to this Twitter account.

“In addition to that, there were nine other Twitter accounts which I think had retweeted the defamatory tweets. We are seeking disclosure in relation to those accounts.”

The orders being sought would require Mr Harris and Twitter to disclose the names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and any other contact details, internet protocol numbers and geographic locators associated with users or controllers of accounts in the name of Barbara J Pym and Dolly White.

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Also being sought are the names and Twitter handles of accounts which retweeted the allegedly defamatory material published by those accounts, as well as the names, addresses and other contact information for the people who used or controlled them.

Mr Justice Allen agreed to short service of the proceedings and adjourned the matter until June 4.

“They are both libel actions in which one of the reliefs claimed is an interlocutory order restraining republication,” the judge said.

“I am satisfied the plaintiffs have established sufficient urgency to allow them earlier dates than would otherwise be available.”

In a statement, solicitors Darragh Mackin and Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who are acting for the two journalists, said: “We are glad that the court has recognised the urgency of these matters and intend to vigorously pursue our clients’ applications for disclosure and damages.”

Mr Harris has pledged to defend the proceedings, claiming tweets he was responsible for were political and not libellous.

Twitter has declined to comment on the cases.

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