Nov 7, 2017

Court lifts injunction against former Church of Scientology member

Peter Griffiths
Peter Griffiths
Irish Examiner
November 01, 2017

A perpetual injunction against a former Church of Scientology (CoS) member which prevented him from harassing or besetting two current members has been lifted by the High Court, writes Ann O'Loughlin.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said Peter Griffiths (63) had apologised and accepted it was wrong and unlawful to follow Zabrina Collins and Michael O'Donnell around when they delivered CoS-funded "Truth about Drugs" leaflets on December 20, 2014.

The judge was satisfied Mr Griffiths was a truthful witness and, by and large, a law abiding citizen. He also had regard to the fact that his fellow defendant, John McGhee, an embalmer from Clara, Co Offaly, was the main protagonist in the harassment on the day the CoSmembers were followed around the streets of north city Dublin.

Mr Griffiths, of Teeling Street, Ballina, Co Mayo, had brought an appeal against an injunction first granted a few days after the December 20 incident, preventing him, and Mr McGhee from door stepping, intimidating, approaching, harassing or videoing Ms Collins, who is a CoS director originally from Donegal and now living in Tyrellstown, Dublin, or Mr O'Donnell, of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin.

The injunction applied to interference at the plaintiffs' homes, place of work or CoS premises. It was later made perpetual when the case was remitted from the High to the Circuit Court.

Ms Collins and Mr O'Donnell opposed Mr Griffiths appeal over the permanent nature of the injunction. They said it should stay in place because Mr Griffiths' behaviour towards them had got progressively worse over a number of years until the injunction was granted.

Mr Griffiths believed the injunction was too wide because it prevented him from engaging in peaceful protest. Mr McGhee did not appeal.

Lifting the injunction on Wednesday, Mr Justice Noonan said the test for a perpetual injunction was whether a substantial risk of danger existed.

In this case, there was only one incident complained of, the following around of Ms Collins and Mr O'Donnell as they delivered leaflets in 2014 for half an hour.

Ms Collins and Mr O'Donnell had been awarded damages for harassment and assault, €3,500 against Mr McGhee and €2,000 against Mr Griffiths over that incident.

Since the injunction was granted nearly three years ago, there has been no suggestion Mr Griffiths was in breach of it, the judge said.

Taking these factors, and the fact that Mr Griffiths had apologised and was not the main protaganist on the day of the incident, the judge was satisfied the behaviour complained of "is small and certainly does not amount to a substantial risk it will recur".

He hoped Mr Griffiths had learnt his lesson from this saga and will stay well away from plaintiffs in the future. If not, he may expect the court to take an extremely serious view of any potentially unlawful acts that may occur.

However, the judge said even if he is wrong in that conclusion there was still another significant factor relating to the question that a plaintiff must have "clean hands" when they seek injunctive relief.

This was well explained in a 1972 case co-incidentally involving CoS founder L Ron Hubbard, who sought an injunction preventing Cyril Vosper, a former CoS member, from publishing a book critical of its practices and philosophies (entitled "The Mind Benders").

In that case, Mr Justice Noonan said, an English judge refused to grant Hubbard an injunction on the basis that CoS had been protecting their secrets by "deplorable means" as evidenced by CoS' own code of ethics. Hubbard therefore did not come to court with clean hands, the English judge said, when asking the court to protect those secrets by means of an injunction preventing publication.

Ms Collins, who had been ordered by the Circuit Court to pay Mr Griffiths €5,000 over untrue allegations she made about him following a talk on scientology he gave in a Dublin school, had herself engaged in an attempt to demonise and discredit Mr Griffiths, Mr Justice Noonan said.

This attempt to undermine any criticism he (Griffiths) had, legitimate or otherwise, of the CoS, cannot be viewed "as other than a failure to come to court with clean hands".

The judge dissolved the perpetual injunction and adjourned the question of costs for two weeks.

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