A Colombo District Judge, Amal Ranaraja, has ordered former Editor of The Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz to pay Rs 1 million to President’s Counsel, Nalin Ladduwahetty, for allegedly having defamed him in four articles published by The Sunday Leader.
The case was heard and concluded with no legal representation for Jansz following her being sacked as Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader after the government used a political stooge to purchase the newspaper. Jansz is currently in exile and could not be reached for comment.
However Colombo Telegraph did send Jansz an email asking her: What is your response to the court decision?, Is it correct that President’s Counsel Nigel Hatch initially represented you?,Did Hatch subsequently withdraw from the case because The Sunday Leader refused to meet his legal fees? Jansz so far has failed to respond.
Following Jansz’ removal from the newspaper in September last year, The Sunday Leader published a front page apology to Nalin Laduwahetty for four articles published in the newspaper during Jansz’ tenure.
The articles published at the time in February 2011, reported that seventeen senior prefects including the Head Prefect of St. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia were asked to leave, by the then Warden Rev. John Charles Puddefoot, after they were found to have assaulted nine junior prefects.
The Sunday Leader initially broke a story that one student, a spin bowler for the St Thomas’ Cricket team Neomal Wickremasekera had been repeatedly slapped in his face (as many as twenty five times according to an old boy of the school) and bodily assaulted in addition to being subjected to other humiliating “acts” where he suffered serious bruising. The incident took place as a result of “ragging” which according to former prefects of St. Thomas’ College speaking to The Sunday Leader said is the “norm.” Both, when a new prefect is chosen and happens frequently among the sporting teams of the College as well, they said. Neomal had recently been chosen as a college prefect and all new recruits according to prefects who spoke on conditions of anonymity, they said are subjected to ragging. “The senior prefects are a law unto themselves and even have a private room where not even a teacher will enter without knocking,” a past prefect told the newspaper.
Romesh Wickremasekera, Father of the victim, Neomal, was also quoted admitting to The Sunday Leader that his son had indeed “been badly assaulted” adding, “action was taken against the prefects by the Warden and so my son does not wish to pursue this matter any further.”
The following week The Sunday Leader followed up on the story by reporting, “Astounding new revelations confirm that nine schoolboys on the eve of being pinned with a prefect’s badge at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia were assaulted and badly wounded as a result of being “ragged” by 17 senior prefects on Tuesday, February 8. Our story last week focused on just one student. This newspaper has since learnt that together with this student a total of nine schoolboys were assaulted and wounded by senior prefects in the ‘Prefects’ Room’ at the College. The nine victims were beaten and subjected to humiliating “acts” which even resulted in them having to be forced to wear other clothing having soiled their school uniforms. Warden of S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, Reverend John Charles Puddefoot, last week was in consultation with top lawyers following the incident of assault on nine junior prefects by 17 senior prefects.”
The Head Prefect summarily dismissed together with an entire batch of senior prefects was the son of Nalin Laduwahetty, Vinura Laduwahetty.
In the lead up to the first story being published, The Sunday Leader reported that Attorney-at-Law Nalin Laduwahetty had telephoned the then Chairman of The Sunday Leader, Lal Wickrematunge repeatedly in an attempt to stop the newspaper from running this story – even pushing for an afternoon meeting at the Royal Colombo Golf Club. His request had been politely declined.
Laduwahetty subsequently resorted to legal action charging the newspaper and Frederica Jansz with having defamed him. His son was not named as a plaintiff. To date, neither one of the victims who were abused by the senior prefects nor any authority from St. Thomas’ college have denied the articles published in The Sunday Leader.
Colombo Telegraph learns that President Counsel Nigel Hatch initially appeared for Frederica Jansz but later withdrew from the case when the newspaper refused to meet his legal fees. Not long after, the newspaper was taken over by the government and Jansz sacked. The case continued to be heard in her absence – after she was forced to flee the country following serious intimidation and death threats. She was not provided with any legal representation in her absence.
Colombo Telegraph tried to reach Lal Wickrematunge for clarification but learnt he is currently overseas and cannot be contacted. We however sent him an email with the following questions:
1. Why was Frederica Jansz not provided with legal representation in this case?
2. Is it correct that President’s Counsel Nigel Hatch at first did represent Frederica?
3. Did Hatch subsequently withdraw from the case because The Sunday Leader refused to meet his legal fees?
The Colombo Telegraph had not yet had a response from Wickrematunge.
President’s Counsel, Romesh de Silva, appeared for the plaintiff Nalin Laduwahetty with attorney, Sugath Caldera, instructed by Paul Ratnayaka Law Firm.