Alan Jones and two radio stations have been ordered to pay a record $ 3.7 million in compensation for defaming a Queensland family by claiming they were responsible for 12 deaths in the 2011 Lockyer Valley floods.
Sydney radio broadcaster Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC were sued by the prominent Wagner family, who claim they were blamed for the deaths in Grantham when one of the walls of the quarry they owned collapsed.
Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan dismissed the complaint against journalist Nick Cater in handing down the record Australian defamation payout on Wednesday.
Brothers John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner had sought $ 1.2 million each from the four defendants.
In a summary of his judgment, Justice Flanagan said the defamatory comments were “extremely serious and of the gravest kind”.
He said Jones, Harbour Radio and 4BC had failed to establish any defence to any of the defamatory matters published.
He noted the effect the comments had had on the Wagners.
“Prior to the publication of the defamatory broadcasts, each plaintiff enjoyed an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity, both in business and community circles,” he wrote.
“The publication of the defamatory broadcasts was very extensive.
“The defamatory broadcasts have caused each of the plaintiffs to suffer profound personal hurt and harm to their reputations, which includes their business reputations.”
The payout smashes the previous Australian record for defamation, with $ 2.62 million awarded to Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney last year after police defamed him by naming him as the “prime” and “only” suspect in the murder of his wife, Corryn