Abe Saffron has
had his second defamation jury win in less than a month. Yesterday a NSW
Supreme Court jury found that the Sydney business identity had been defamed by
the clues and solution to a crossword puzzle published by the Gold Coast
Bulletin
over two days in January last year.

The Gazette of
Law & Journalism

this morning reported that Clive Evatt, for Saffron, told the jury that
defamatory statements could take many forms: “oral, written, cartoons, the
cinema, burning an effigy, statues, waxworks… this one is a crossword
puzzle.” According to
the evidence clue number three down read: “Sydney underworld figure, nicknamed Mr Sin
(3,7).”

The following
day, the solution to that brain teaser was published: “Abe Saffron.” The two
imputations pleaded came straight from the clues:

(a) The
plaintiff is a Sydney
underworld figure

(b)
The
plaintiff is nicknamed “Mr Sin”

Evatt did what
he always does with clients whose reputations may be spotted with the odd black
mark – he tells the jury that people are more likely to believe defamatory
statements about them. “They can make a person’s bad reputation even
worse.” He said that it
was “a serious matter” to describe someone as Mr Sin, because it says
“his activities are of an amoral nature.”

The jury did
not agree. It found that while both imputations arose, being called Mr Sin was
not defamatory. However, to be described as a Sydney underworld figure is defamatory. On 30 June a jury
in the case Saffron brought against John Silvester and Andrew Rule over their
book about Australian gangsters found the same thing. To be called Mr Sin is
not defamatory.

Happily the
jury in that preliminary trial also found it not defamatory to have said that
Saffron “was alleged to have whipped a girl at a party” and that he
“could have caused six serious fires in nightclubs he owned for
insurance.”

In October 2003
a jury found that three imputations pleaded by Saffron against The Sydney
Morning Herald
were not defamatory: he has been dubbed Mr Sin because his
behaviour has been consistently bad over many years; he had an unsavoury
reputation; he concealed convictions under the liquor law. The next round
in the tussle with the Gold Coast Bulletin and Silvester is no doubt being
negotiated as we speak.

Justice Jim
Wood concluded proceedings yesterday, confessing: “the Wuzzle Puzzle was
totally beyond me.” In 1987 Saffron
was convicted of tax evasion over a 13-year period. He served 16 months imprisonment.
Since 1951 there have been adverse findings against him by various Royal
Commissions and inquiries.

Read more on Justinian here.

Peter Fray

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