Sydney radio broadcaster Alan Jones and his employer have been ordered to pay a record $3.7 million in damages for defaming one of Queensland’s richest families by claiming they were responsible for 12 deaths in floods almost eight years ago.
The 2GB breakfast presenter, Harbour Radio and its sister station 4BC were sued by the prominent Wagner family, who claim they were blamed for the deaths in the small Lockyer Valley town of Grantham, south-west of Brisbane, when one of the walls of the quarry they owned collapsed.
The Wagners, who own the Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba and have an estimated worth of $955 million, sued Jones after he linked them with a dozen deaths, which occurred as Queensland and northern New South Wales were devastated by raging floods in January 2011.
Supreme Court of Queensland Justice Peter Flanagan dismissed the complaint against journalist Nick Cater, a conservative columnist with The Australian newspaper, in delivering the record Australian defamation payout on Wednesday.
Sydney radio broadcaster Alan Jones and his employer have been ordered to pay a record $3.7 million in damages for defaming Queensland brothers over the 2011 floods
The 2GB breakfast star, Harbour Radio and its sister station 4BC were sued by the Wagner family, who claim they were blamed for the deaths in Grantham, south-west of Brisbane
Brothers John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner had sought $1.2 million each from the four defendants.
In a summary of his judgment, Justice Flanagan said the defamatory comments were ‘extremely serious and of the gravest kind’.
He said Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC had failed to establish any defence to any of the defamatory matters published.
Jones’s top-rating Sydney 2GB breakfast show is also broadcast in Brisbane.
Brothers John (second left), Denis (second right), Neill (right) and Joe Wagner (far left) had sought $1.2 million each from the four defendants
Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan said Alan Jones’s defamatory comments were ‘extremely serious and of the gravest kind’
He noted the effect the comments had had on the Wagners.
‘Prior to the publication of the defamatory broadcasts, each plaintiff enjoyed an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity, both in business and community circles,’ he wrote.
‘The publication of the defamatory broadcasts was very extensive.
‘The defamatory broadcasts have caused each of the plaintiffs to suffer profound personal hurt and harm to their reputations, which includes their business reputations.’
The payout smashes the previous Australian record for defamation, with $2.62 million awarded to Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney last year after police defamed him by naming him as the ‘prime’ and ‘only’ suspect in the murder of his wife, Corryn.
The Alan Jones defamation trial
Queensland’s Wagner brothers have successfully sued Alan Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC for defamation over accusations a wall collapse from the Lockyer Valley quarry they owned contributed to the deaths of 12 people during the 2011 floods.
THE PLAINTIFFS’ CASE
– The Wagners’ lawyer Tom Blackburn claimed his clients were depicted as ‘cruel, selfish and lawless people (who) pursued their goals through corruption, cronyism, intimidation and criminality’ in unparalleled attacks by Jones.
– John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner also allege they were accused of a high-level cover-up with politicians relating to their Wellcamp Airport.
– Denis Wagner labelled Jones’ broadcasts ‘gut-wrenching’ and incredibly harmful to their reputations, while Neil Wagner claimed he thought Jones was ‘going mad’ after hearing his accusations.
– Jones admitted not having any scientific evidence to back up his claim the 12 people were killed due to the collapse of a quarry wall.
– Journalist Nick Cater was accused of omitting evidence possibly contradicting his ‘narrative’ about the Wagners’ alleged blame.
– Jones’ lawyer Robert Anderson attempted to position the Wagner family as greedy by highlighting the $4.8 million claim is more than the major defamation payouts awarded to West Australian barrister Lloyd Rayney and actress Rebel Wilson.
– Jones admitted he subjected the Wagners to savage criticisms, but denied calling them murderers. He said he and his team always took ‘reasonable steps’ to be accurate
– Jones maintained the Wagners could have bribed Qantas over the airline’s decision to fly into Wellcamp Airport, but denied he had a bitter hatred for them.
– On the final day of submissions, Mr Anderson dropped the honest opinion defence and admitted some claims Jones made about the Wagner family were indefensible.
– Justice Peter Flanagan on Wednesday ordered Jones and his team to pay a record $3.7 million in compensation for defaming the Wagners.
– Justice Flanagan dismissed the complaint against Cater.
– In his judgment Justice Flanagan described the defamatory comments as ‘extremely serious and of the gravest kind’.
– He said the Wagners had suffered ‘profound personal hurt and harm to their reputations’ through the comments.