Friday, 2 September 2016

Policeman defamed

Barrister who ran Tyler Cassidy website ordered to pay $150,000

The Supreme Court of Victoria decision Dods v McDonald shows that aggravated damages will be awarded where defamatory implications are grave and maintained without any apology offered.


Tyler Cassidy was 15 years old when he was shot by police in a park in Melbourne.  Colin Dods, the plaintiff, was one of the Victoria Police Members who fired at Tyler.  The plaintiff was exonerated of personal responsibility and was found not to have contributed to Tyler's death in findings which followed a coronial inquiry conducted in 2011.

The defendant, a Queensland based barrister, was aware of the Coroner's Court findings when he published two statements about the plaintiff's involvement in Tyler's death on pages of his website (which was focussed on Tyler's death) in 2012.  The plaintiff alleged that the natural and ordinary meaning of these statements included that: the plaintiff had executed, shot and killed, gunned down, and chose to shoot Tyler; used excessive force out of proportion to the threat posed by Tyler; and committed manslaughter by shooting Tyler.

The defendant denied the plaintiff's repeated requests for an apology although he did modify the relevant pages of his website and ultimately closed the website down.  After amending his defence a number of times prior to trial, the defendant denied that the publications were defamatory, denied that the plaintiff was entitled to aggravated damages and sought to rely on the defence of triviality (ie that it was unlikely in the circumstances that the plaintiff sustained any harm).  The defendant maintained the defence of justification (ie truthfulness) until shortly before the trial.


A jury found that the publications were defamatory and the defence of triviality was not established.

His Honour Justice Bell ordered that the defendant pay the plaintiff $150,000 in damages, including aggravated damages.  His Honour found that certain aspects of the defendant's conduct of his defence had been improper and unjustified and, even though the scope of publication had not been large, the jury had found that the defamatory content had been grave.

Read more about compensation awarded to a woman who was the subject of sexually explicit Facebook posts here or about the tweet that led to former Treasurer Joe Hockey being awarded $200,000 here.

If you would like to know more about the law of defamation please contact:

Max Steed

Anna English and Dianna Gleeson
Managing Principal Solicitors

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