Astonishment as businessman wins €10m over nude sleepwalk

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The Independent Online

Ireland may be desperately short of cash these days, but one Irish businessman has just been awarded €10m (£8.5m) in a spectacular libel victory in the Dublin courts.

The damages were awarded to a wealthy executive who took a case against his former employer, Kenmare Resources, claiming it had insinuated he had made inappropriate sexual advances to a female colleague.

Donal Kinsella, a former director of the mining company, accepted that he had appeared naked at the door of company secretary Deirdre Corcoran during a business trip to Mozambique.

But the court heard he had a habit of sleepwalking and that on the night in question he had been drinking and taking painkillers.

The award, a record for an Irish court, was made by a jury of seven men and four women, who deliberated for three hours. The judge, Mr Justice Eamon De Valera, put a stay on the award with the exception of €500,000. Mr Kinsella said he was "exhilarated and vindicated" by the verdict,while Kenmare Resources issued a statement saying it was shocked and intends to "immediately and vigorously appeal". Irish libel regulations are under review at the moment, after a number of substantial awards in recent years, but none of these reached €2m. The award of €10m thus caused surprise in legal circles.

The court had heard that the episode, in 2007, had made Mr Kinsella the subject of jokes, jibes and cat-calling, making him a national and international "laughing stock". It was said that people at the Galway Races had sung: "Yes, we have no pyjamas." A company press release relating to the episode had conveyed, it was argued, that something juicy was going on in the jungle, with Mr Kinsella trying to "jump the company secretary".

His counsel said that an ordinary, honest and loyal family man was being suggested to be some sort of sexual predator. The hearing was told Ms Corcoran's bedroom door was opened three times by Mr Kinsella in the early hours of the morning. The court was told a solicitor had been called in to investigate a complaint from Ms Corcoran.

He had concluded that Mr Kinsella had been sleepwalking, had no improper motives in opening her door and had made no conscious attempt to enter the room. Mr Kinsella subsequently apologised to Ms Corcoran.

The company rejected suggestions that it wanted to "shaft" him. It argued that it had behaved properly in difficult circumstances and had not been motivated by malice in its press release.

Counsel for the company Bill Shipsey described the award as "off the Richter scale", saying it was inconceivable that it would not be set aside by the Supreme Court. The previous largest award is already under appeal to the court.

Kenmare Resources described the award as "grossly excessive".

Mr Kinsella commented: "The pall of suspicion that hung over my head for the last three years has been removed. It's a magnificent vindication."