Former journalist wins libel case against Sunshine

A High Court judge has award­ed for­mer in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Ani­ka Gumbs $255,000 in dam­ages for a se­ries of li­bel­lous ar­ti­cles pub­lished in Sun­shine news­pa­per al­most four years ago.

De­liv­er­ing judg­ment in the San Fer­nan­do Civ­il Court, Jus­tice Na­dia Kan­ga­loo found that the ar­ti­cles amount­ed to an at­tack on Gumbs and made her a pub­lic tar­get.

Or­der­ing costs in the sum of $47,000, the judge al­so took is­sue with the dis­re­gard shown by the de­fen­dants—Sun­shine Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny Ltd which was owned by Jack Warn­er, in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Azad Ali and ed­i­tor An­tho­ny “Lexo” Alex­is, for the court process.

Nei­ther the de­fen­dants nor any at­tor­ney on their be­half showed up for tri­al yes­ter­day.

Gumbs sued the news­pa­per and the jour­nal­ists af­ter four ar­ti­cles con­sist­ing of li­bel­lous state­ments against her were pub­lished be­tween Au­gust and Oc­to­ber 2015.

She was then an in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter at the Trinidad Ex­press. When the mat­ter was called, Gumbs’ wit­ness state­ment was ten­dered in­to ev­i­dence.

In his sub­mis­sions to the court, Gumbs’ at­tor­ney Nizam Mo­hammed said she had writ­ten sev­er­al ex­pose touch­ing and con­cern­ing Warn­er when she worked at the Guardian news­pa­per.

She said the false news­pa­per ar­ti­cles in the Sun­shine news­pa­pers were an ap­par­ent re­tal­i­a­tion to the ar­ti­cles she had writ­ten about Warn­er.

Sub­mit­ting that she was a pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ist with some 18 years ex­pe­ri­ence, Mo­hammed said the ar­ti­cles were ma­li­cious and li­bel­lous and deeply af­fect­ed her per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life.

He was in­struct­ed by at­tor­ney Genevieve Thomp­son. In her rul­ing, Kan­ga­loo not­ed Gumbs’ ev­i­dence that she not on­ly suf­fered from de­pres­sion and so­cial and emo­tion­al pres­sure but was al­so the sub­ject of at­tacks on her pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al rep­u­ta­tion which caused her to leave the coun­try in Jan­u­ary 2017.

Kan­ga­loo found that there was a sig­nif­i­cant ab­sence of ev­i­dence to show that the de­fen­dant took steps to gath­er and pub­lish in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the ar­ti­cles in a clear and re­spon­si­ble man­ner.

“The court con­sid­ered that the four ar­ti­cles con­sti­tut­ed a con­cert­ed at­tack on the claimant’s (Gumbs) rep­u­ta­tion both pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al which re­sult­ed in her rep­u­ta­tion be­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly af­fect­ed,” the judge said.

The judge added: “The court ac­cepts that the chronol­o­gy of events which have been her­ald­ed in the claimants ev­i­dence... do in fact demon­strate that the claimant was a tar­get... and trust in­to the pub­lic light as a re­sult of these ar­ti­cles and head­lines to which the court has re­ferred and as such be­came a tar­get for the pub­lic at large as a re­sult of the pub­li­ca­tion of these ar­ti­cles.”

“The court, there­fore, must sound its dis­plea­sure with that at­tack and in par­tic­u­lar the lack of sup­port it has re­ceived at the tri­al of this mat­ter from the de­fen­dants by way of their com­plete ab­sence and dis­re­gard of the court’s process and the care­less and reck­less ap­proach to the court process.”

The de­fen­dants made an ap­pear­ance dur­ing the case man­age­ment hear­ing. How­ev­er, af­ter their at­tor­neys with­drew from the mat­ter in Oc­to­ber 2018 they failed to ap­pear and re­mained un­rep­re­sent­ed.

The judge found no ev­i­dence to sup­port the de­fen­dant’s de­fence which re­lied on the grounds of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, fair com­ment, qual­i­fied priv­i­lege and the Reynolds case.

The judge said the de­fen­dants failed “whether by care­less or cal­lous­ness or just in­abil­i­ty to as­sist this court in any way” to prove the con­tents in the ar­ti­cles were true.”

Speak­ing to the me­dia af­ter­wards, Gumbs said she al­ways had con­fi­dence in the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

Reporter: Sascha Wilson

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