Tweed shire mayor Katie Milne has been awarded $45,000 in damages plus costs after winning a defamation case against billionaire developer Bob Ell.
Mr Ell is involved in two massive developments in the Tweed Shire and his relationship with the council, and Cr Milne in particular, has not been smooth.
Ironically, Cr Milne brought her case as a result of comments Mr Ell made to a Murdoch newspaper, the Gold Coast Bulletin, after he won a defamation case against her.
In that case, Mr Ell was awarded $15,000 damages against Cr Milne but Justice Rothman ruled in the Supreme Court yesterday that was not a reason to minimise the damages awarded to her.
After Mr Ell’s case was ruled by Justice McCallum on March 7, 2014, Mr Ell was contacted by a reporter from the Gold Coast Bulletin on March 12, and ‘made comments to the effect that Ms Milne is not a “fit a proper person to be a councillor” and the Gold Coast Bulletin reported that comment together with reporting that Mr Ell has stated that he hoped speculation that the payments would bankrupt her were true, so that she would not be able to retain her place as a councillor,’ the facts of the case revealed.
The newspaper ran the headline ‘KATIE LOSES BILLIONAIRE BOB BATTLE “I HOPE THIS SENDS HER BROKE” P8’ on its front page.
On page 8 the story ran under the headline titled ‘Developer hopes fine bankrupts councillor’.
Cr Milne stated in the course of her evidence that Mr Ell’s comments represented a ‘statement of utter derision’ and that she felt as though by making those statements Mr Ell was suggesting that she should get ‘more punishment than what the judge had actually determined’.
In his judgement Justice Rothman wrote that while ‘the damage to the plaintiff has been caused by the publication of the statement in the Gold Coast Bulletin…’ the newspaper had ‘apologised to the plaintiff for the publication. That apology was complete and was sufficient to satisfy the plaintiff that it was unnecessary to obtain damages from the Gold Coast Bulletin.’
He added that, ‘nevertheless, the damage to the plaintiff is significant. Taking into account each of the purposes and the limitations imposed by the statute, together with those factors already mentioned that ameliorate the level of damage, an appropriate award to compensate the plaintiff should issue. I note that the defendant did not plead or submit that the impugned statements were true.’
‘Taking into account the purposes of an award of damage, the hurt to and the harm to the reputation of the plaintiff and bearing in mind the ameliorating factors, the most significant of which is the apology that has been published by the Gold Coast Bulletin, the Court considers that an award that most appropriately reflects the purposes of damages in a defamation proceeding is an amount of $45,000,’ Justice Rothman ruled.
Mayor Milne was approached for comment but no response was received by time of publication.
A spokesperson for Tweed Shire Council told Echonetdaily it was, ‘unlikely to issue anything officially as Council, as it was a personal matter.’