Stephanie Massey, a former UK resident, had made a series of Facebook posts detailing her dealings with Perth accountant Barry McEloney, in which she claimed Mr McEloney exhibited “unprofessional” and “obnoxious” behaviour.
Believing that the posts made on the ‘Poms in Perth’ Facebook page were defamatory in nature, Mr McEloney sought $100,000 in general damages, $674.90 for special damages and $20,000 in aggravated damages.
The posts claimed Mr McEloney withheld Ms Massey’s tax paperwork and refused to return it unless a fee for his services was paid.
However, in her judgment, District Court of Western Australia judge Anette Schoombee said, “Mr McEloney alleged that the publication of these matters brought him into hatred, ridicule and contempt and that he suffered loss and damage to reputation and injury to his feelings”.
In her defence, Ms Massey “pleaded that all her statements were an expression of her honest opinion made in the public interest, namely the conduct of Mr McEloney as an accountant when dealing with his clients”.
In addressing email communication made between the plaintiff and the defendant, Ms Schoombee favoured Ms Massey’s interpretation of events.
“The tone of Mr McEloney’s email indicates that he is a person who can be abrasive, rude, intolerant, jump to conclusions and throw down the gauntlet at someone,” she wrote.
“Where Mr McEloney’s evidence is inconsistent with Ms Massey’s, I prefer hers."
Upon dismissing Mr McEloney’s claims, Ms Schoombee noted that it was “unfortunate” that the two parties had not engaged in a sensible exchange, “but instead took an entrenched position where legal costs soon became an additional barrier to a settlement. Ms Massey gave evidence that she felt hounded by Mr McEloney and his lawyers.”
The judgment concluded by noting that the Facebook comments were not made to "get back at Mr McEloney".
“She [Ms Massey] was simply up in arms about the manner in which she and [her partner] Mr Giddings had been treated and she had good justification for that based on the email in which Mr McEloney essentially accused her partner of tax fraud.”