The chief executive officer of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), Davlin Thomas, has been awarded just over $1 million in damages after the court ruled that 14 defamatory statements, published between March to June 2020, on various social media platforms by Naresh Siewah, had maligned Thomas’s character and discredited him in the public’s eyes.
In a judgment by Justice Margaret Mohammed on Thursday, she said the posts on Siewah’s personal Facebook page and the group Facebook pages “TrinbagoLivesMatter” and “The Voice Of TnT 99%”–constituted personal attacks against Thomas.
Thomas, who is also the vice chairman and chairman of the Finance and Human Resources Committee of the National Carnival Commission (NCC), brought legal action seeking damages which included aggravated and exemplary damages; special damages; and damages for the republication of Facebook posts by third parties.
In addition, Thomas had also sought to obtain an injunction to prohibit Siewah and others from further publishing or causing to be published any words, statements and/or innuendos defaming him; an apology and public retraction in writing by Siewah which would take the same form of the original defamatory publications.
Siewah denied that he had spoken or published certain words set out in the Facebook posts and that the words complained of did not refer to Thomas.
He claimed while they could not be understood to bear or be capable of earing the alleged defamatory meanings, they were mere words of heat and that they were protected by qualified privilege.
Thomas, in his application to court, contended the Facebook posts were inaccurate, misleading, disparaging, defamatory and malicious and portrayed him in a negative light through the use of unfounded allegations of corruption, misbehaviour in public office, nepotism and fraud.
He also contended that the words in the publications made by Siewah were done in a sensational and prominent manner and with a reckless disregard as to accuracy thereof and as to whether the words were libellous.
Thomas said the posts inferred, among other things, that he had committed wrongdoings at the NCRHA.
Thomas’ attorneys issued a pre-action protocol letter to Siewah on June 9, 2020, following which he acknowledged receipt the day after and apologised and removed the posts from his personal Facebook profile.
After accepting the mistake of posting the allegations and assuring Thomas that there would not be a repeat of such actions, Siewah told Thomas that his personal Facebook account was hacked and that certain posts were generated by one “Johnny Walker” and allegedly accepted responsibility for the posts made by himself and not by “Johnny Walker”.
Thomas said the publications occurred over a span of two- and- a- half months and that Siewah would have known about them but did not remove them.
Thomas said he suffered shame and embarrassment due to the allegations and that Siewah’s actions had brought him into public odium and disrepute, while exposing him to public ridicule and contempt.
Thomas said his family, including his wife and children, had been severely affected by the allegations which have left them traumatised by the persistent and relentless attacks by Siewah.
Siewah was ordered to pay Thomas general damages in the sum of $800,000 inclusive of aggravated damages, together with interest thereon at the rate of 2.5 per cent per annum from June 24, 2020 to the date of judgment.
He was also ordered to pay Thomas exemplary damages in the sum of $100,000 and to refrain from publishing or causing to be published and/or from republishing or causing to be republished any words, statements and/or innuendos defamatory of Thomas.
Siewah was also directed to issue an apology and public retraction in writing to Thomas, with the public statement taking the same form of the original defamatory publication, and being an equally highlighted post published on his Facebook profile and the other Facebook profiles that he shared the posts on.
Siewah was further ordered to pay Thomas’ costs in the sum of $101,500.
Contacted yesterday, Thomas told Guardian Media, “I feel vindicated. I will continue to do my job on behalf of the people and my team as I did during the COVID pandemic.”