Jury says she was defamed

May 11, 2018

A Country Court jury has found a story published in the Benalla Ensign in 2016 has defamed former member for Indi Sophie Mirabella.

A Country Court jury has found a story published in the Benalla Ensign in 2016 has defamed former member for Indi Sophie Mirabella.

The story claimed Ms Mirabella, a candidate for Indi in the 2016 election, had pushed sitting member and political opponent, Cathy McGowan, to prevent a photo opportunity at the opening of a new wing at the Cooinda Aged Care Centre.

In evidence in the County Court at Wangaratta, Ms Mirabella acknowledged she had persuaded a visiting federal minister, Ken Wyatt, to avoid being in the photograph to prevent Ms McGowan from gaining a political advantage, but denied ever pushing anyone.

Ms Mirabella sued the newspaper and former editor Libby Price over the article and is claiming damages.

The Benalla Ensign published an apology later in the year.

The trial, held in Wangaratta during five days and ending last week, heard Ms McGowan had been one of the newspaper’s sources for the article published, but according to the evidence, Ms McGowan had refused to give any detail, but agreed that an ‘‘altercation’’ had occurred at the opening.

In evidence given to the court Ms McGowan said she did not see Sophie Mirabella push anyone, but saw her place her hands on the chest of aged care minister Ken Wyatt to prevent him from moving to have a photograph taken.

Asked why she had not clarified what had occurred, after the publication of the article, Ms McGowan told the court she did not see it as her responsibility to correct media reports.

Mr Wyatt, a Liberal minister from Western Australia, described to the court how Ms Mirabella had tried to persuade him not to be in the photograph.

Later, at a Liberal party conference she had secretly recorded a conversation in which they discussed what had occurred.

The Minister also told the court Ms Mirabella had approached him saying ‘‘Ken, we need to get our evidence right’’.

Ms Mirabella told the court when she first read the article, titled ‘‘Awkward encounter’’, she had felt sick. She said the article accused her of assaulting an older woman.

She said it was particularly serious because she had been involved in campaigning against violence against women.

The jury of five men and one woman found the defamation case had been proven, and a judge must now determine the level of damages.

McPherson Media Group executive chairman Ross McPherson expressed disappointment at the outcome, but thanked the many Benalla people for their expressions of support.

The Benalla Ensign is a McPherson Media Group newspaper.

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