CFMEU ACT branch secretary Dean Hall is suing independent website The RiotAct in the ACT Supreme Court over a news story he says falsely accused him of assault.

Union lawyers Slater & Gordon have lodged papers in the dispute, with Hall expected to seek substantial costs running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. An apology will also be sought for the yarn dating from April this year, which described a brawl in the beer garden of the Tradies Club in the Canberra suburb of Dickson.

While The RiotAct named Hall as a instigator, he says he was not central to the fracas, arriving well after it was in full-flight. His account is backed by a police statement, which states Hall was “kicked a number of times while he was on the ground”.

A follow-up story is believed to have referred to a “D Hall” who was listed in court on assault charges, but the link was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Police have confirmed there were no charges or arrests over the Tradies incident.

The initial post was removed by RiotAct editor John Griffiths (who posts under the handle “johnboy”) after Hall issued a complaint. The RiotAct is believed to be insured for defamation and Hall hopes that a resolution can be agreed upon soon, possibly through mediation.

“The story damaged me personally and professionally. I haven’t set a financial sum at this point … this is about setting the record set straight,” Hall told Crikey this morning.

“I’m a union official who’s used to dealing with nasty and personal attacks but they went into my private life … what they said about me at the time was totally incorrect and not true so they really had a big effect.”

Hall said he was spurred into action by the CFMEU’s ACT Committee of Management and the union’s national office and has sought counselling.

“I’m quite angry, they got stuck into me about accused me of things … I’m a big fish in a small pond.”

The RiotAct is required reading among ACT insiders and regularly boasts scoops including eyewitness accounts of a fire at the Hotel Diamant in June before the fire brigade had even responded.  It was the first Canberra news outlet to report on the Joel Monaghan dog s-x scandal.

It has been running since November 2000 and employs one paid editorial staffer in Griffiths and three other people in administration and sales. It boasts approximately 1 million page views and 120,000 unique browsers a month, cementing its reputation as an independent media success story in a sea of commercial mediocrity.

While all posts relating to the Hall saga have been removed, the statement from ACT police remains as a memento. A court date for the matter is yet to be set.

John Griffiths declined to comment this morning.

Peter Fray

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