Case Law, Australia: Benyon v Manthey, Damages award in “naked sushi eating” libel case – Brigit Morris

20 10 2015

Travers BenyonOn 8 October 2015, the District Court of Queensland awarded damages of AUD$25, 000 to the now infamous millionaire playboy, the ‘Candyman’, in Benyon v Manthey [2015] QDC 252.

Mr Travers Beynon (‘the Candyman’) had originally sought damages of AUD$100,000 in an action for defamation against the former nanny of his four children on the basis that she made defamatory comments on a national television program about his capacity to be a suitable parent. In awarding just AUD$25, 000, Judge Paul Smith considered Mr Beynon’s character  and reputation as a party boy and found that the damage caused by the defamatory claims ‘would be far less than a person without such a reputation’.

This case turned on the question of whether, when assessing damages, a court can consider evidence of a plaintiff’s bad character under sections 34 and 38 of the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld).

Background

Mr Travers Beynon is managing director of Cigarette and Gift Warehouse Franchising Pty Ltd and is also the father of four children. He has amassed a significant fortune through this tobacco business. Through his public instagram account, @candyshopmansion, he has built a reputation as a multi-millionaire, party boy who enjoys a playboy lifestyle on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

The defendant, Ms Michelle Manthey was engaged by the plaintiff as a nanny to his four children from the period 16 June 2014 to 31 March 2015. On 4 December 2014, Ms Manthey signed a confidentiality agreement preventing her from disclosing any information about the plaintiff’s personal and family life. Despite this, she later recorded a ‘tell all’ interview that aired on 1 June 2015 on Channel Nine news program, A Current Affair.

Channel Nine is a national broadcaster in Australia and A Current Affair is available on free to air television and online. In the program, salaciously titled ‘The Candyman’s Women’, Ms Manthey wept as she recalled alleged instances where Mr Beynon’s children were present and unsupervised at his wild, debaucherous parties and even consumed alcohol. Ms Manthey claimed, for instance, that Mr Beynon’s ‘younger girls’ were present during a photoshoot where Mr Beynon’s wife, Taesha, was covered in sushi while she lay naked on a table. Ms Manthey claimed,  ‘I know the younger girls were there when the sushi was laid over Taesha,’ she said during the interview.

Paragraph 7 of the judgment outlines the imputations alleged by the plaintiff that arise form the ‘ordinary and natural meaning’ of the words in the A Current Affair program:

(a) the plaintiff is not fit to be a parent because he allowed his young daughter to watch while photographs were being taken of people eating sushi from her mother’s naked body;

(b) the plaintiff is a reckless parent because he allowed his young daughter to watch while photographs were being taken of people eating sushi from her mother’s naked body;

(c) the plaintiff is not fit to be a parent because he hosts debaucherous parties for adults, in his family home, in the presence of children;

(d) the plaintiff is a reckless parent because he hosts debaucherous parties for adults, in his family home, in the presence of children;

(e) the plaintiff is not fit to be a parent because he allowed his underage son to drink excessive amounts of alcohol;

(f) the plaintiff is a reckless parent because he allowed his underage son to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Evidence of bad character

In assessing damages, the judge relied on evidence tendered by the defendant from the plaintiff’s instagram account that included numerous photos of ‘scantily-clad’, ‘bikini-clad’ and semi-nude women at the plaintiff’s mansion. Many of these photos included the plaintiff’s children. The plaintiff objected to the introduction of this photographic evidence. Judge Smith had therefore to consider whether evidence of general bad reputation is admissible in mitigation of damage.

In ABC v McBride [2001] NSWCA 322, the New South Wales Court of Appeal held that a defendant may rely on directly relevant facts – which in other circumstances might have been ingredients of a defence of justification – as mitigation of damages. However, relevant evidence of bad character must be confined to the relevant “sector” of the plaintiff’s reputation ([28] per Ipp AJA with whom Beazley JA agreed). This was followed in Channel Seven Sydney Pty Ltd v Mahommed [2010] NSWCA 335.

Judge Smith considered the following ‘sectors’ were relevant in his determination:

(a) whether debaucherous parties were held at the house;

(b) whether his wife was naked and covered in sushi;

(c) whether his 16 year old son was exposed to these parties.

Judge Smith considered that the photographic evidence tendered was relevant to the imputations, and therefore admissible, ‘not simply as evidence of irrelevant misconduct’ [30].

He went on to find that ‘this in my view tends against great damage being suffered. Those photographs to me show that the plaintiff was a person who has published photographs of barely clad women and bare-breasted women present in his home; with his naked wife covered in sushi’ [53]. Given the highly public lifestyle of the plaintiff, the judge concluded in his assessment that ‘not much damage flows’ from the imputations [54].

Case comment

This case is worthy of comment to the extent that the judge was willing to award the plaintiff AUD$25, 000 despite the plaintiff failing to enter any evidence to support his claim. The plaintiff did not supply the court with an affidavit or any other form of evidence to explain the hurt and ridicule he claimed to have experienced as a result of the allegations made in the television program [9]. Judge Smith held that ‘While damage may be presumed, I infer that in the absence of evidence from him damage is not as great as a case where the plaintiff swears to injury and hurt suffered’ [52].

Having said this, the defendant failed to file a defence and the judge was able to find that there was no evidence to suggest Mr Beynon’s children were present during some of the more ‘wild’ parties held at the Candyman Mansion, including during the infamous sushi photo shoot involving the children’s mother. The judge clearly took this into consideration when awarding a sum of damages:

‘I take into account that there is no admissible evidence … that he allowed his children to be present while people photographed sushi being taken of people eating sushi from his wife’s naked body’ [55]).

Since this judgment, Mr Beynon has posted several articles promoting his successful claim for damages on @candyshopmansion.

Brigit Morris was a legal officer at the Australian Law Reform Commission. Brigit is currently a Masters student at King’s College London.

 

 


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22 10 2015
Bad Reputation – how can a claimant’s character affect damages for defamation? « Scandalous! Defamation Law Blog

[…] was awarded $25,000). There is already an excellent summary of this case on Inforrm’s Blog here, but the focus of this post is the award of damages in the UK in circumstances where the claimant […]

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