A chiropractor was ordered by a judge on Monday to pay €5,000 damages for a “vitriolic and personalised” attack on the character of a Co Mayo man who opposes the beliefs and teachings of the Church of Scientology, of which she is a leading member.
Judge James O’Donohoe in the Circuit Civil Court said that allegations by Zabrina Collins against Peter Griffiths of criminal activity, hate-mongering and links to gay pornographic movies of teenage boys “were largely untrue and grossly defamatory”.
He said an email from Ms Collins to a Dublin headmaster describing Griffiths as not being a fit person to engage with students was “particularly distasteful”, but had not gone far enough to brand him a paedophile either directly or by innuendo.
Judge O’Donohoe had heard that Collins had sent the email to the principal of St David’s CBS, Artane, Dublin, in May 2013 after she discovered a YouTube recording of a talk on “cults” given by Mr Griffiths to a class of teenage boys at the school.
She had claimed his talk had centred on Scientology and accused him of “openly and viciously” slandering the church.
She had also accused him of being “an avid hate campaigner against Scientologists” and of “hate-mongering” against the church.
In the email she included a picture of Mr Griffiths that he had allowed to be taken of himself with only his genitals covered with a Guy Fawkes mask, which Mr Griffiths told the court had been taken in support of Prince Harry following a nude photo scandal involving the British royal in a Las Vegas Hotel in August 2012.
Judge O’Donohoe told Seamus O’Tuathail SC, counsel for Mr Griffiths, of Cual Gara, Teeling Street, Ballina, that Ms Collins had sought to prove the truth of each and every allegation against his client, despite the fact there had not been a specific pleading of such in her defence.
Mr O’Tuathail had told the court that Mr Griffiths was seeking €50,000 damages against Ms Collins.
The judge said on Monday that the claim of qualified privilege regarding Ms Collins’s remarks could not extend to protect such “a vile attack” on Mr Griffiths’s good name.
He said there had been a good deal of history and animus between the two parties that accounted for the tone of the email, which he described as “malicious in the extreme”.
He said publication of the defamatory remarks had not been extensive and thad been directed to the school principal.
Judge O’Donohoe also gave judgment in a second case in which Ms Collins, a chiropractor, of The Boulevard, Mount Eustace, Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15, and Scientologist Michael O’Donell, a marketing consultant, of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin, sued Mr Griffiths and embalmer John McGhee, of Armstrong Grove, Clara, Co Offaly, for assault and battery.
The judge said Mr McGhee had followed Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell in Dublin as they distributed leaflets against drug-taking.
He said that from a video he had seen it was very clear to him that Mr McGhee had certainly been guilty of assault.
He said that Mr McGhee’s harassing of Ms Collins and the grabbing by him of leaflets constituted battery.
Judge O’Donohoe told barrister Frank Beatty, counsel for Ms Collins, that his client could be heard letting out a “shrill shriek” on the video, which indicated to the court that she was worried about a battering from Mr McGhee.
The judge awarded Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell a total of €3,500 against Mr McGhee for assault and battery.
Mr Griffiths, he said, had played a lesser role by videoing the assault, but had nevertheless consorted with Mr McGhee.
For harassment and assault he awarded Ms Collins and Mr O’Donnell €2,000 damages against Mr Griffiths.
Mr Beatty and Mr O’Tuathail agreed that the question of costs could be dealt with by the court at a later date.