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May 14, 2010

Guthrie wins out, judge slams Harto & Blunden

Former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie has been awarded $580,808 in damages plus costs in his unfair dismissal case against News Ltd.

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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye has issued a stinging ruling in former Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie’s landmark unfair dismissal case against News Limited, awarding Guthrie $580,808 plus costs that could send his total payout to over $1 million and slamming the News Ltd witnesses’ testimony in the process.

At a judgement issued early this afternoon, and delayed by Kaye’s attendance at QC Peter Galbally’s funeral this morning, the veteran judge found that Guthrie was entitled to loss and damages for his sacking in November 2008 at the hands of News Limited supremo John Hartigan:

“I am satisfied that, as a result of the breach by the defendant of the contract of employment…the plaintiff suffered loss and damage, consisting of the termination payment to which he would have been entitled under clause 22.4 of the contract.”

The section related to severance payments due to be paid to Guthrie if his three year contract was terminated early:

100514_guthrie

Another claim relating to loss of opportunity to negotiate a new contract, said to be worth $2.7 million, was dismissed by Justice Kaye.

In a wide-ranging 91-page judgement, Kaye rejected Herald and Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden’s version of events relating to an exchange between Blunden and Guthrie, one month before he was sacked, over the now infamous Beverly Hills Cop front page that Blunden said had drawn the ire of former News Chairwoman Janet Calvert-Jones and former police chief Christine Nixon.

“Overall, he [Blunden] did not present as a witness that was confident in his testimony,” Justice Kaye wrote. In a further rebuke, Kaye said Blunden’s evidence “does not survive scrutiny” and that he preferred the account of Guthrie.

On Hartigan’s testimony, that was slammed in court by Guthrie’s counsel Norman O’Bryan SC, Kaye said that he “had reservations about a number of features” of his evidence.

“In the course of cross-examination, it became apparent that Mr Hartigan attempted to give the impression of having a better memory of the events, about which he gave evidence, that was the fact.”

Hartigan’s recollection of the negotiation of Guthrie’s contract, which the News chief had claimed were “long, protracted and hard-driven”, were dismissed.

“In my view Hartigan was an unreliable witness in respect of the negotiations that proceeded the formation of the contract.”

On evidence given by Hartigan on an apparent lack of front-page promotion allocated to a 2008 preliminary final between Hawthorn and St Kilda, which had, in fact, appeared prominently, Kaye was similarly scathing:

“That error…not only revealed a clear error in his memory, but, more importantly, an evident lack of care exercised by him in giving his evidence before me.”

But Justice Kaye reserved his most savage judgement for the role played by Blunden in Guthrie’s dismissal:

“It became evident that Mr Blunden’s memory and recounting of the events, which occurred during and immediately after Mr Guthrie’s editorship of the Herald Sun, was affected by the dispute which had arisen between the plaintiff and the defendent, and in particular by the central role which Mr Blunden had played in the decision to terminate Guthrie’s employment, which led to the dispute…

…It became evident that Mr Blunden, in his evidence, endeavoured to downplay the significant role which he had had in the termination of Mr Guthrie’s appointment as editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun.

“I also consider that the explanations given by Mr Blunden in evidence, for not revealing to Mr Guthrie, at the time, that he was advocating his removal as editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun, do not survive scrutiny.”

Weighing the conversations between Guthrie, Hartigan and Blunden, Kaye found that on most occasions Guthrie was the more credible witness.

A triumphant Guthrie, speaking exclusively with Crikey after the ruling was handed down, said he was “pleased by the decision.”

“I was disappointed that it came to this and had to be fought out in court, but I’m glad the record has been put straight.

“News may be a good company but they got it horribly wrong because they failed the first rule of journalism — they didn’t get both sides of the story.”

For six days finishing last Tuesday, the court was regaled with the inner workings of the Herald Sun that detailed Guthrie’s 21 month stint as editor before his eventual sacking in November 2008.

During the case, Hartigan was relentlessly pilloried by Guthrie’s counsel, Norman O’Bryan SC, for his “exaggerated, misremembered and obviously wrong evidence”, delivered under oath.

It is unknown whether the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions will follow up the strong imputations that both Blunden and Hartigan had concocted a large proportion of their evidence to the court.

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22 comments

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22 thoughts on “Guthrie wins out, judge slams Harto & Blunden

  1. Mr Squid

    it’s not only newscrap journalists who are liars, it’s management as well. what a disgusting rabble they are.

  2. CML

    No doubt the Victorian DPP will have some flimsy excuse for not charging the powers that be at News Ltd with perjury? One law for the rich and another for the poor continues….
    Mr Squid you are so right! Why anyone would believe ANYTHING they read in News Ltd papers is beyond me.

  3. shepherdmarilyn

    Newsltd are not exactly batting a thousand these days are they?

    This is now three strikes in a short space of time.

    Storm had Harto out ranting even though his mob admitted they did it.

    Then there is the attempted cover up and coercion of the OPI in Melbourne over Stewarts role in the non-story of three men being arrested for doing nothing at all followed by hysterical nonsense. Stewart should have known better after being stung over the Haneef affair but apparently he learnt nothing.

    Now this. I wonder how much longer Rupe will allow Harto to stay around.

    Funny though how Harto said last year that he wanted his papers to publish rubbish and not news, now he is the news over and over again.

  4. SBH

    What was that Turnbull said? In the end your credibility is all you have?

  5. Meski

    And the subtext of what he said: “News Ltd are a mob of lying bastards”

    In other news (not News), the sky is blue…

  6. CliffG

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer company! Sweeeeeet!

  7. EngineeringReality

    The funniest thing is that the judge kept telling them to settle & warning that he was going to find at least one of the parties as liars.

    But the arrogance kept up their sense of entitlement to use all the power of their media channels to prove themselves right…

  8. Socratease

    I still say BFD to the whole thing, but I do wonder how News will report the outcome to its loyal readers.

  9. middleman

    I say good on you Guthrie for having a go. This sort of behaviour is rife in the large corporates. What complete clowns, and thats being nice, are Blunden and Hartigan…….they should be sacked!!

  10. klewso

    Socratease – this is “Limited News” in the dock here.

  11. klewso

    As Maid Marilyn points out, ironic, one of the characters in selective defence of the Storm, before this “personal reference”.
    And now Limited News apparently wants to give 4 Storm “executives” (“Happy”, “Dopey”, “Grumpy” and “Bashful”? They’d keep “Snow White”, “Celery Cap” and all?) the shaft before they can have their day before the NRL bored – they’d probably have some interesting “gems” to show off.
    Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of full disclosure – “Our Rite to Gnaw”(?) and all – to see just how institutionalised ignorance might have been in “the firm”. How far up the totem poll the dry rot extended. What sort of premium such ignorance attracts, from such an accomplished example of a “free-market” company, advocate and champion?
    I reckon there’d be a lot of people wanting to see how openness and accountability really works for such committed proponents (when it comes to “Labor” at least) – it might even be a matter of “our Right to, no”?

  12. peter gower

    News Ltd have been unfairly maligned here. They are a brilliant entertainment company. Thank you I’m here all week…

  13. shepherdmarilyn

    Peter, now is life in the asylum old mate? The greatest irony though is that Hartigan ran the right to know campaign.

    Seems he doesn’t know much at all about anything.

  14. lizzie

    Just looked up “Guthrie” on today’s Herald Sun online, and was directed to a small note under Business – Media in The Australian.
    Nuff said.

  15. Sancho

    Engineeringreality’s right about the entitlement. It’s why you end with movements like the Tea Partiers in America: conservatives just assume the right to rule, and if the public questions or disagrees, the Murdochians reason that it can only be the result of a nefarious plot to subvert truth and decency.

  16. ryanmott1

    They deserve each other. Mr Blonde, Mr Booze and Mr Bluff.

  17. goodcommunity

    Summary: Bruce Guthrie is a good bloke, Blunden and Hartigan are turds, News Limited is a super bully and the judge is soft by not recommending DPP followup of Blunden and Hartigan.

    Maybe Blunden could join Rudd in bullying airforce flight stewards and junior public servants for some further career enhancement.

  18. Damotron

    News Limited has no credibility and I don’t believe anything they write, say or do. Can we have a poll on whether the public think that News Limited papers are truthful.

  19. Mr Squid

    page seven of the weekend oz: Sacked Editor Wins Payout From News is an interesting little item about this case. Strangely enough there is nary a mention of the judges’ excoriating criticism of Hartigan and Blenden as liars. That’s why you can’t believe a thing written in NewsCrap papers. Especially things written about the company or Rupert Murdoch. Maybe ASIC needs to pay more attention to NewsCrap ASX notices and the trash its businesss journalists write about their company.

  20. Sosso

    What really interests me is what part Neil Mitchell played in getting Guthrie sacked. Blunden testified that Mitchell said the paper had gone off and that was one of his reasons for knifing Guthrie.

    Did Mitchell actually say that or was it a lie?

    If it is a lie, Mitchell needs to explain what really was said and if he agrees with it.

    Or is Mitchell just too scared of losing his column and perhaps having to explain how Blunden is Melbourne’s biggest bully and how he takes his orders from a liar and a thug.

    Mitchell is pretty brave attacking people without clout. If he doesn’t address this, we’ll all know what sort of a man and a journalist he really is.

  21. monkeywrench

    Sosso @ 11.08
    I’d quite believe your suppositions about Mitchell. Having been an indirect victim of his ” fearless truthseeking” ( I was an employee in a company he chose to pillory very unfairly) I would expect he will be tiptoeing carefully around his statements on this front.

  22. SHV

    “SpringHillVoice.com” has a good summary of the judgment in about 4 pages rather than 91.

    Bolt gets a mention as well as Mitchell. There is a stink about Guthrie doing a job on Christine Nixon, must have been before it was company policy.

    Pop over to http://www.stopmurdoch.blogspot.com for another take on it, vis-a-vis Murdoch corporate culture/truth/judicial process and rules in general.

    These people are really something else.

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