Ryanair su­ing three pi­lots over email

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS / NEWS -

Ryanair is su­ing three pi­lots over an email it says falsely in­ferred the air­line had mis­led in­vestors, fa­cil­i­tated in­sider deal­ing in shares by man­age­ment and was guilty of mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tion.

The air­line says cap­tains Evert Van Zwol, John Goss and Ted Mur­phy, of the Ryanair Pi­lots Group (RPG) ma­li­ciously cir­cu­lated the email to 2,289 pi­lots in 2013. Ryanair also claims it was part of an on­go­ing RPG ef­fort to trade unionise its pi­lots and had come fol­low­ing sim­i­lar false at­tacks on its safety record.

The de­fen­dants deny defama­tion and say the words com­plained of do not mean what Ryanair says. The words also have the ben­e­fit of qual­i­fied priv­i­lege whereby a state­ment pub­lished to some­one with an in­ter­est in re­ceiv­ing such in­for­ma­tion is pro­tected as long as it is not mo­ti­vated by mal­ice, they say.

The ac­tion opened yes­ter­day be­fore a High Court jury and Mr Justice Bernard Bar­ton. Thomas Ho­gan SC, for Ryanair, said the state­ment was pub­lished on Septem­ber 12th, 2013, un­der the head­ing “Pi­lot Up­date: what the mar­kets are say­ing about Ryanair”. It stated Ryanair gave pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tions to in­vestors the pre­vi­ous June which en­cour­aged a share price in­crease fol­lowed up by a sell-off of shares by air­line man­age­ment, coun­sel said. “That state­ment was fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect”, Mr Ho­gan said.

Ryanair says by pub­lish­ing that in­cor­rect state­ment, the de­fen­dants were say­ing, by in­nu­endo or in­sin­u­a­tion, the air­line mis­led in­vestors, know­ingly fa­cil­i­tated in­sider deal­ing by man­age­ment, was guilty of mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tion and con­spired with man­age­ment to abuse the mar­kets, coun­sel said. Ryanair had in May pub­lished its an­nual re­sults for the end of that fi­nan­cial year say­ing it had a very prof­itable year but say­ing the out­look for the com­ing year was cau­tious due to in­creased costs.

Shortly af­ter those re­sults, Ryanair chair­man David Bon­der­man sold 1.5 mil­lion shares he held in trust for his chil­dren. Non-ex­ec­u­tive Ryanair di­rec­tor Michael Hor­gan sold 25,000.

Quar­terly win­dow

The sales were dur­ing the 28-day quar­terly “win­dow” pe­riod per­mit­ted by the stock mar­ket dur­ing which those con­nected with a com­pany can sell and the sales were no­ti­fied to the air­line by the men. There were no mean­ing­ful fluc­tu­a­tions in the share price dur­ing the two week pe­riod in which they sold their shares, coun­sel said.

On Septem­ber 4th, Ryanair is­sued a trading up­date no­ti­fy­ing in­vestors prof­its would come in at the lower end of what had been pre­dicted but no in­di­ca­tors were given to al­low man­age­ment sell-off shares. Af­ter the RPG “pi­lot up­date” was sent the fol­low­ing week, Ryanair sought an apol­ogy and re­trac­tion from the de­fen­dants, as well as de­tails of the RPG mem­ber­ship, but these were re­fused.

Only one of the the three, Capt Goss, was ac­tu­ally a Ryanair pi­lot and was dis­missed for gross mis­con­duct in Au­gust 2013, Mr Ho­gan said. The rea­son the RPG was at­tack­ing Ryanair was to bring about union­i­sa­tion of its pi­lots which the air­line has al­ways op­posed, as is its le­gal right, coun­sel said. The case con­tin­ues.

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