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Hotelier described as ‘Scrooge' to be awarded £50k in libel case

Gordon Coulter sued the Sunday World, claiming it had portrayed him as callously discharging staff just before Christmas
Staff Reporter

A CO Down businessman described in a newspaper as a "Scrooge" after his hotel went into administration is to be awarded £50,000 in libel damages, a High Court judge has ruled.

Gordon Coulter sued the Sunday World, claiming it had portrayed him as callously discharging staff just before Christmas.

Mr Coulter (84) is also to receive legal costs of the case centred on the temporary closure of the Kilmorey Arms Hotel in Kilkeel back in December 2014.

Awarding compensation, Mr Justice Stephens held it was a serious libel of a businessman who had no other option but to put the company into administration.

Proceedings centred on an article that claimed sacked workers at the 175-year-old hotel were left with no pay.

It stated that Mr Coulter, a former shareholder in the Kilmorey Arms, "has been branded a Scrooge for putting his staff on the street a week before Christmas".

His lawyers argued the newspaper description meant he had money but out of meanness was not prepared to spend it to save the jobs at the hotel - which has since reopened under new ownership.

As part of its defence the Sunday World denied it was defamatory to refer to someone as a Scrooge.

Mr Coulter, a former president of Kilkeel Chamber of Commerce, once ran companies employing up to 500 people in the area.

During evidence at the trial, the businessman said he was "gutted" by the article.

He claimed it had been the worst day of his life when he read it, leaving him reluctant to leave his home and being reclusive for months.

In 2000 the businessman was part of a group that took over the Kilmorey Arms, in a bid to aid the town's economic growth.

For the next 14 years none of the shareholders received any financial benefits.

By December 2014 the hotel was still running, but at losses of up to £7,500 a week and finally the administrators were called in.

Mr Justice Stephens pointed out: "The plaintiff did not dismiss the members of staff. That was done by the administrator."

Staff had been paid earlier in the month and informed once administration was confirmed, he concluded.

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