Wagner brothers drop $476,000 defamation suit
A POWERFUL Toowoomba family's $476,000 defamation suit against a highbrow and "influential" magazine over the deadly 2011 Grantham flood has been settled just weeks before the trial was set to begin.
The 10-day jury trial, which was set to begin on November 13, was vacated after the four Wagner brothers agreed to drop the suit against the London-based publisher of the weekly magazine The Spectator Australia, and Sydney journalist Nick Cater.
The magazine is part of the Press Holdings Media Group, controlled by reclusive billionaire brothers David and Frederick Barclay.
The brothers Denis, John, Neill and Joe Wagner sued over an article titled "Dam Busters! How Cater and Jones burst Grantham's wall of lies" which ran on the front cover and on page 7 of its August 1, 2015 edition.
The Wagners claimed the article implied they "caused the killer flood that wrecked the town of Grantham when a man-made wall at this quarry consisting of a crude mound of clay and earth collapsed releasing a torrent of water into Grantham where it killed 12 people, including a one-year-old girl who was ripped from her mother's arms, within half an hour.", a claim The Spectator denied.
They also claimed the article implied the family "had inflicted a nightmare on the decent, honest, hardworking people of Grantham by reason of being the owner of a quarry whose wall collapsed, causing a killer flood" and the family "told a wall of lies in order to cover up the true cause of the Grantham flood", a claim The Spectator denied.
They asked for $376,500 general damages, and $100,000 in aggravated compensatory damages after The Spectator allegedly refused to retract the imputations after the Grantham Flood Inquiry Commissioner Walter Sofronoff said in his October 2015 report that the Wagners had been "unfairly and viciously blamed" for the flood by some in the media.
The Spectator denied the family were defamed by the publication, and denied they were hurt by the article, and relied on the defence of qualified privilege and honest opinion.
The magazine article was the "honestly held opinion" of the editor Rowan Dean, and was intended to inform readers about the media coverage of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry and Grantham Flood Inquiry.
In his defence filed last year Mr Cater also relied on the defence of qualified privilege and honest opinion.
A mediation hearing with Ken Fleming QC in March failed to resolve the case.
Mr Cater is defending a second suit brought by the Wagners, which also involves shock-jock Alan Jones. That case goes to trial on April 30.