Ministers testify on colleague's behalf in defamation claim

Minister in the Ministry of Housing Adrian Leonce
Minister in the Ministry of Housing Adrian Leonce

TWO government ministers on Monday testified on behalf of their colleague Adrian Leonce and his wife in a defamation claim they brought against a media house and its reporter.

Foster Cummings, Minister of Youth Development and National Service and MP for La Horquetta/Talparo and Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for gender and child affairs and MP for Tobago East, testified at the trial.

It was brought by Leonce, Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Development and MP for Laventille East/Morvant and his wife Karen-Lee Bethelmy-Leonce, a teacher, in their defamation claim against Guardian Media Ltd (GML) and its reporter Renuka Singh.

Leonce and his wife complained of the contents of an article published on October 8, 2018, in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper and written by Singh. The article related to injuries Bethelmy-Leonce suffered on August 30, 2018, in an accident at her home when she slipped and fell.

Leonce and his wife have alleged the article was one-sided and irresponsible. It is also alleged that despite having spoken to Leonce, who clarified the facts relating to his wife’s accident, the reporter and the newspaper “wilfully, erroneously and maliciously wrote the article in a completely different context to imply” that Leonce was “responsible for his wife’s injuries to her face.”

The couple’s defamation claim further alleged the article gave the impression Leonce was guilty of a criminal offence, while Bethelmy-Leonce alleges the article breached her privacy by publishing details of her medical condition and was not in the public’s interest.

Presiding over the trial is Justice Frank Seepersad, who will give his decision on December 17.

In his testimony, Leonce spoke of his conversations with Singh about the incident and a post he made on his social media pages on his wife’s condition.

Leonce said he confirmed his wife was injured and had three extensive operations and even corrected some of the reporter's information.

He admitted that the published article contained “a lot of facts” but said it did not give his side of the story.

Bethelmy-Leonce, in her testimony, said the story caused her anxiety and painted a false image of her husband, causing her significant stress and infuriating her. She also said it was upsetting to her reputation as a teacher.

Bethelmy-Leonce said because of the article and its republication on several social media pages, the family had to go to therapy, as they were left “emotionally and psychologically scarred.”

Cummings said on the night of the accident, Leonce called him to ask if he could help his wife as Leonce was not home at the time and Cummings lived nearby.

“When he did, he sounded distressed. He told me there was an incident at home and he was not there and would like me to go across and lend some assistance.”

Webster-Roy also testified on her relationship with the couple and spoke of an article Singh wrote in another newspaper to support the couple’s allegation that the journalist “had a track record” of “defaming and disparaging” PNM MPs .

Also testifying were a close female friend of Bethelmy-Leonce’s who was with her on the night of the accident at her home, and one of the couple’s five children, Adia Leonce.

In defence of her article, Singh resisted suggestions that she had engaged in irresponsible journalism. She said she received information from three sources, two at the hospital and a third person to corroborate.

She also said neither she nor the newspaper would pursue matters that had no factual basis. Singh spoke of the information she received from her sources, insisting they were neither incorrect nor lying, and after receiving the information, she contacted Leonce.

Leonce and his wife are represented by attorneys Colvin Blaize, Farai Hove Masaisai and Jennifer Tull. Singh and GML are represented by attorneys Marc Campbell and Andre Rudder.


"Ministers testify on colleague’s behalf in defamation claim"

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