Policing Board member close to resolving libel action

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A member of Northern Ireland’s Policing Board is close to resolving her libel action against two colleagues, it emerged on Friday.

Counsel for Joan O’Hagan told the High Court that the terms of an agreement could be signed next week.

Mrs O’Hagan, an independent member of the body set up to oversee the PSNI, issued proceedings against the board, vice-chairman Stuart MacDonnell and former chairman Brian Rea.

Her writ includes a claim for aggravated damages for alleged defamatory statements by the defendants.

The papers claim “wrongful and unfounded allegations” were made against her between October 2012 and May 2013.

Mrs O’Hagan, a director of Asthma UK Northern Ireland, joined the board in 2011.

The former nurse has worked in the healthcare sector for many years.

Her action also seeks damages for “psychiatric upset” sustained due to the alleged negligent misstatement and breach of contract by the defendants in her treatment as a member of the board.

Those being sued include Mr MacDonnell, another independent representative who joined in 2011.

He is a non-executive member of the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care and has previously been chief executive/accounting officer for the Northern Ireland Social Services Board.

Mr Rea has been an independent member of the board since 2006.

He was elected as vice-chairman in 2009 before serving as acting chairman from 2010 until he was elected as chairman the following year.

A former lecturer and head of faculty at Castlereagh College of Further and Higher Education, he was also a member of the Board of Visitors at Maghaberry Prison.

A justice of the peace, he served as a lay magistrate for 11 years.

Mr Rea is also a trustee of the RUC George Cross Foundation.

No further details of the alleged defamation were disclosed as the case was mentioned in court on Friday.

But Mr Justice Stephens was told parties in the action have reached a form of agreement.

Mrs O’Hagan’s barrister said the terms “require a number of steps to be undertaken”.

He added that if completed it would allow “a discontinuation of the action”.

The judge agreed to his request for a four-week adjournment to enable efforts to complete that process.

Outside court a spokesman for the Policing Board declined to speak about the case,

She said: “As this is a legal matter we cannot comment on it.”