High Court Judge Frank Seepersad is expected to give his judgement in Laventille East/Morvant MP and Minister in the Ministry of Works and Transport Adrian Leonce’s defamation lawsuit against this newspaper, over a report on the injuries his wife suffered in a fall at their home in 2018, on December 17.
Justice Seepersad reserved his decision in the case after completing the trial of the defamation lawsuit, in which Leonce is claiming that the article wrongly alleged that he was responsible for the injuries, yesterday.
Testifying on Leonce’s behalf in the lawsuit was himself, his wife Karen-Lee Bethelemy-Leonce, their daughter Abia, Bethelmy-Leonce’s friend Vanessa Beharry, the couple’s neighbour and close friend La Horquetta/Talparo MP Foster Cummings, and Leonce’s other Cabinet colleague Tobago East MP and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy.
In their evidence, Bethelmy-Leonce and Beharry claimed that on August 30, 2018, they went out for dinner and then returned to the couple’s home in Couva.
Beharry claimed that she went to use the bathroom and heard Bethelmy-Leonce’s daughters screaming.
She claimed that when she got out of the bathroom, she found her friend lying face down on the ground. Beharry and Bethelmy-Leonce’s daughters called Leonce, who was on his way home at the time, and waited until he arrived to take her to a private hospital in San Fernando.
Bethelmy-Leonce, a secondary school teacher, was then transferred to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope, where she was warded for over a week and had to undergo several facial surgeries.
In his testimony, Leonce claimed that upon receiving the news, he called Cummings to check on his family as he (Cummings) lived a short distance away.
Although Cummings admitted that he could not help out, as he was in Port-of-Spain at the time, he claimed that he visited the hospital afterwards.
Leonce admitted that he was contacted by senior journalist and editor Renuka Singh after he posted a message on his social media accounts asking friends and relatives to keep his wife in their prayers.
While being cross-examined, Leonce and his wife admitted that while they initially claimed the report was wholly inaccurate, some material aspects of it were factual.
“Not everything in the article was untrue, but there are aspects to make me think that they are untrue,” Bethelmy-Leonce said.
Bethelmy-Leonce claimed that she was upset by the article, as it portrayed her husband as abusive based on the extent of her injuries.
“It was the common interpretation of the article,” Leonce, who is seeking compensation, an apology and a retraction, said.
Leonce also denied that when he took his wife to hospital, he claimed that she was involved in a car accident as alleged.
While the couple admitted that they and their daughters had to go to therapy based on the distress caused by the article, they admitted that they did not bring their therapist as a witness.
While being cross-examined by attorney Marc Campbell, the couple admitted that they had issues with the report being republished by social media activists, who added their own commentary to the contents of the article. They both admitted that the activists were not connected to Guardian Media, who could not control their posts.
In evidence, Webster-Roy sought to give her experience with Singh while she (Singh) was employed by the T&T Express to buttress the couple’s claim that Leonce was targeted as a People’s National Movement (PNM) MP.
While being cross-examined by attorney Campbell, Webster-Roy admitted that her defamation lawsuit was settled before going to trial with no admission of liability.
Campbell sought to question Webster-Roy more on the settlement but Justice Seepersad pointed out that her case was not relevant to Leonce’s.
In her evidence, Singh claimed that she received reports from two sources at the hospital, who claimed that Bethelmy-Leonce Injuries were inconsistent with a car accident and more consistent with domestic violence.
She claimed she called a third source, who confirmed the extent of the injuries but did not mention a car accident.
Questioned on whether the third source made her think that her two initial sources were wrong or lying, Singh said no.
She claimed that she called Leonce, presented him with the information and included his response in her report.
Leonce and his wife are being represented by Colvin Blaize, Farai Hove-Masaisai and Jennifer Farah-Tull.
Andre Rudder is appearing alongside Campbell for Singh and Guardian Media.