A PROMINENT Forster business man has been paid $40,000 in an out-of-court settlement after another man posted defamatory information about him and his business on 25 different websites.
Matt Coombe, the 34-year-old skipper of the Forster-based Amaroo whale watch boat, brought defamation proceedings against Shane Hunter in the District Court Of NSW in April claiming that, in January 2011, Mr Hunter had posted defamatory comments on a number of different internet sites under the title ‘Forster NSW Amaroo cruise skipper bashes elderly?’ The article, which included a photo of the Amaroo cruise boat and a link to the Amaroo website, alleged that a bystander saw Mr Coombe “punch some elderly looking man, knock him to ground and kick him while he was down. They seemed quite upset about it i.e. sounded genuine that they had witnessed it, or at least something that upset them.”
The article also warned potential customers against using the Amaroo service: “I would like to know more about this skipper before booking a trip with him,” it read.
The allegations stem from a physical altercation involving Mr Coombe and Shane Hunter’s father, Ron Hunter, on January 6, 2011 which resulted in Ron Hunter, 65, spending three days in hospital with various rib and internal injuries.
As a result of the incident Ron Hunter pleaded guilty to assaulting Mr Coombe in Forster Local Court on April 21, 2011. He was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond and police application for an Apprehended Violence Order against Ron Hunter was granted for a period of 12 months.
Mr Coombe admitted relief that the process was now over, after the matter was brought to his attention by customers on the Amaroo.
“A lot of them were joking around at first saying ‘so you’re the bloke who bashes the elderly’ and things like that,” Mr Coombe said.
“I was shocked and distressed when I realised that the defamatory article had been circulated on at least 25 websites. Comments people made to me were very hurtful but I feel the $40,000 damages awarded to me goes some way towards alleviating the pain and suffering.”
In settlement documents obtained by the Great Lakes Advocate the defendant Shane Hunter admits to publishing the defamatory comments on the web and made a full apology to Mr Coombe.
“The allegations I made in that article about Matt Coombe were false and I retract them all. I had no basis whatsoever to make those false allegations. I unreservedly apologise to Matt Coombe and his family for the hurt that I have caused them by my conduct.”