Karam wins big payout

Joe Karam.
Joe Karam.
Joe Karam has won one of the largest defamation payouts in the country, and says the $1 million in damages and costs awarded is a warning to website owners and online commentators.

The David Bain supporter took a defamation case against website publisher and online commentator Kent Parker and online commentator Victor Purkiss for a ''full-scale assault on Mr Karam's reputation'' after Mr Bain was cleared in 2009 of murdering five members of his family.

In her ruling released yesterday, Justice Patricia Courtney awarded $525,000 compensation to Mr Karam for the injury caused, and the payment of costs, anticipated to be about $500,000. Mr Parker was ordered to pay damages of $350,500 and Mr Purkiss to pay $184,500.

Justice Courtney further punished the men by awarding indemnity costs against them because they ''behaved egregiously'' in choosing to use the defence of truth at the High Court trial last October.

Mr Purkiss did not attend it, but Mr Parker admitted under cross-examination by Mr Karam's lawyer, Michael Reed QC that he could not prove his claims.

Legal sources confirmed the figure was one of the largest defamation payouts in New Zealand history.

Mr Parker, of the Counterspin website and administrator of the Facebook page ''Justice for Robin Bain'', confirmed yesterday he would appeal and said he could not afford to pay the $350,500 in damages awarded against him.

Mr Purkiss, a contributor to the Facebook page Counterspin and other sites, could not be contacted last night. He now lives in England.

The case was heard in the High Court at Auckland last October.

Mr Karam told the Otago Daily Times he was pleased with the decision, ''and the damages awarded indicated the severity of their behaviour and basically completely vindicated me''.

The judge noted Mr Karam, a successful businessman and former All Black, enjoyed ''a significant and positive reputation before becoming involved in the Bain case''.

Statements posted on Facebook, on Mr Parker's website Counterspin and other websites including TradeMe message boards had caused Mr Karam great distress.''

He described the period during which these statements were posted as the worst four years of his life, and I believe him,'' the judge noted.

She ordered that all defamatory messages be removed from the websites.

Mr Karam told the ODT he thought the case was finished when the retrial ended, but the online comments took their toll on himself and his family, particularly his elderly parents. His father died last year.

The judge accepted the description from Mr Reed that the defamation was ''a full-scale assault on Mr Karam's reputation''.''

Few aspects of Mr Karam's reputation were left untouched,'' the judge noted.

Both Mr Purkiss and Mr Parker exacerbated the damage by raising the profile of the Facebook page and Counterspin website and giving an interview to a newspaper.

Mr Purkiss was found to be less culpable than Mr Parker, as he was liable for his own posts and refrained from making further defamatory remarks after proceedings were issued.

Mr Karam told the ODT that if the pair had taken ''the thing down when I first wrote to them in 2009, none of this would have happened''.

''Once it is on the web, it is up there forever and it spreads around the whole world.''

Mr Karam said the case should serve as a reminder to online publishers that ''they are responsible in exactly the same way as the media''.

''The owners of websites are responsible for any blogs posted on their websites so they need to be extremely careful.''

He confirmed his legal team was pursuing recovery of the money.

If the pair did not pay him, he would take bankruptcy proceedings against them.

He said he and Fairfax NZ had earlier agreed to settle defamation claims, on a confidential basis, arising from articles on stuff.co.nz that drew attention to the websites that contained the defamatory comments by Mr Parker and Mr Purkiss.

- Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald