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Thomas to pay PM EC$155,000

Thomas to pay PM EC$155,000

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Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has been awarded $155,000 in a lawsuit brought against local pharmacist and political activist Matthew Thomas for comments made on the programme ‘Stay Awake’ on Nice Radio on January 29, 2007.{{more}}

The amount has been awarded as an aggravated award, according to the court document, with prescribed costs amounting to $11,625 and for the defendants to pay interest on the judgment debt at the statutory rate of 5 per cent from the date of assessment until payment in full.

According to the judgment handed down by Georgis Taylor-Alexander, High Court Master, the prime minister pleaded that the words in their natural and ordinary meaning were understood to mean that he intended to conspire with others to assassinate or instruct the assassination of Junior Bacchus in order to silence him.

The comments made, according to the document, also hinted that the prime minister used that office to victimize public officers and have granted diplomatic passports to persons in order to facilitate the trafficking of illegal drugs, and that the prime minister has conspired to traffic illegal drugs.

That the prime minister had also used his position to secure the release of a convicted drug dealer because of an alliance and that the prime minister was guilty of misbehavior in public office.

However, Thomas denied that the words could bear the meaning ascribed to them by the prime minister.

“He contended that the words complained of constituted fair comment and expressions made in good faith without malice upon matters of public interest,” Alexander wrote in the final judgment.

And that the said words were published in the exercise of freedom of speech and on the conduct of the claimant in his public capacity as Leader of the Unity Labour Party and Prime Minister.

The court subsequently upheld a motion on November 16, 2009, filed by the prime minister for the defendants’ defences to be struck out as they did not establish reasonable defences to the action.

The court also upheld the claim and entered judgment for Gonsalves.

“The purpose of an award of damages for slander has been established to be compensatory to console the Claimant for the distress he suffers from the publication of the statement; to repair the injury to his reputation; and as a vindication of his reputation,” Alexander included in the judgment.

She further stated in her judgment to place into context the circumstances under which the statements were made in determining the gravity of the slander.

“The claimant is and was at the time the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of the state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, he is the political leader of the Unity Labour Party, a Member of Parliament for the North Windward Constituency.”

Alexander further contended that the prime minister complained that the second defendant, Douglas DeFreitas, owner of Nice Radio irresponsibly permitted his station to be used by the opposition New Democratic Party and other political opponents of Gonsalves.

“The statements were false and gravely injurious. In my view, the statements made go to the core of the claimant’s credibility and his reputation as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and were calculated to smear and undermine him in the eyes of the ordinary members of society,” Alexander ruled.

The ruling indicated that the allegations were published on live radio and that the broadcast extends throughout the country and neighbouring St Lucia and the rest of the world via the Internet, which, according to Gonsalves, allowed for the publication to reach Vincentians living in the Diaspora.

While indicating that it was difficult to conclude the effect of the publication, Alexander said that she was satisfied by statements made during the case that the makers were not prepared to accept the statements made without proof of their truth being provided.

“This to my mind is quite telling as it suggests that given the reputation of the claimant, statements tending to undermine his character are treated initially with suspicion and more political rhetoric rather than statements of truth.”

Thomas has been making headlines in recent months. On November 14, 2011, on his “Stay Awake” radio programme, Thomas said that guerrilla war would begin, should Prime Minister Gonsalves receive any money which the court had ordered managing director of Nice Radio, Douglas DeFreitas, or anyone else to pay him from defamation suits.

And just last month, Thomas announced his intention to form a political party by the name of PRESS, should he receive positive feedback from the public about the idea of forming the party.

When SEARCHLIGHT contacted Thomas for a comment on the judgement against him on Wednesday, he said that he was yet to see the judgment and wanted to consult his lawyer before making a statement on the ruling.

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