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Elliot awarded £48k in damages over Flanagan tweet

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Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott has been awarded £48,750 in compensation over a tweet by Sinn Fein’s MLA Phil Flanagan falsely suggesting he had harassed and shot people.
At a High Court hearing last month to decide on the level of compensation to be awarded, Mr Elliott said the groundless allegations left him shocked and fearing for his safety. 
Mr Elliott, a former Ulster Unionist leader and the party’s current MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, sued over the contents of a tweet back in May 2014.
At the time he had just been interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show.
Mr Flanagan then took to social media about the UUP politician’s appearance.
He tweeted: “Tom Elliottt talks to Stephen Nolan about the past. I wonder if he will reveal how many people he harassed or shot as a member of the UDR.”
The posting was seen by 167 of Mr Flanagan’s followers, six of whom re-tweeted the comments before they were taken down within an hour.
But Mr Elliott said he was alerted to the contents by a number of sources, including victim’s campaigner Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA in 1984.
Former party colleague and incoming Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster was among others who contacted him.
Legal action culminated in the acceptance of an offer to make amends. That involved Mr Flanagan recognising the defamatory and baseless allegations, formally apologising and agreeing to pay compensation and costs.
An agreed statement was also read out in which Mr Flanagan accepted his tweet was untrue, wholly without foundation and apologising for all offence caused.
The Sinn Fein MLA also published the statement on his Twitter account.
Although Mr Flanagan offered no evidence in court, Mr Elliott told how he served in the Ulster Defence Regiment from 1982-1992, and then with the Royal Irish Regiment for another seven years.
At the High Court today, Mr Justice Stephens said the tweet had been “grossly defamatory” and constituted a “serious libel”. He also ordered Mr Flanagan to pay the costs of the libel action.

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