Alan Jones found guilty of defamation against Wagner family

Alan Jones has been ordered to pay $3.4m in damages to the 4 members of the Wagner family by the Queensland Supreme Court.

Radio stations 2GB and 4BC have also been ordered to pay damages plus interest to the Toowoomba based family.

2GB says it is “disappointed” with the decision and Alan Jones was reserved in his comments given that the judgement restrains him from further comment on the matter.

The Queensland Supreme Court found that Jones, 2GB and 4BC had defamed the family in a series of radio broadcasts between 2014 and 2015.

John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner took the radio host and stations to court claiming the broadcasts implied they were responsible for the deaths of 12 people in the 2011 Grantham floods when a family owned quarry wall collapsed.

They also claimed that the broadcasts suggested they stole airspace for their privately-built Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba, and that the airport was corruptly approved.

As we reported earlier in our coverage of this case, lawyers for Alan Jones and Macquarie Radio appeared to have accepted that Jones would be found guilty of defamation because Judge Flanagan warned that the Opinion defence would fail if Jones’ allegedly defamatory statements were found to be substantially untrue. Expert witnesses and an official inquiry cleared the Wagner brothers of blame for the deaths, but was dismissed by Jones in his on air statements, which he based on comments from listeners and relatives of those who died. Expert witnesses and the official inquiry report were used to show that Jones’ claims were ‘substantially untrue,’ therefore negating the defence of using ‘known true facts’ as a basis for forming an opinion.

The Wagners were seeking $4.8 million in damages and the final amount awarded by the court was $3.7 million.

Defamation proceedings against journalist Nick Cater, who spoke on air to Alan Jones about thne case, were dismissed.

In handing down the decision this morning Justice Peter Flanagan said 76 defamatory imputations brought before the court were “extremely serious” and of the “gravest kind”.

2GB and Alan Jones sought to establish that 57 of the defamatory imputations were substantially true, but failed to do so in respect of any of the imputations. They also sought to defend 10 of the 27 broadcasts as a fair report of the Grantham Floods Inquiry, but this defence also failed.

Jones, 2GB and 4BC are permanently restrained from publishing or causing to be published any of the matters complained of.

Key points from the judge’s summary include:

On 24 February 2015 and 26 February 2015, 4BC and Mr Jones published two broadcasts. These two broadcasts conveyed four defamatory imputations of and concerning the plaintiffs. These four defamatory imputations were extremely serious, and included allegations that:

  1. (a)  each plaintiff, knowing that his culpability for the deaths of people in the Grantham flood disaster had been covered up, tried to persuade Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk that allegations about a cover-up were a conspiracy theory;

  2. (b)  each plaintiff, knowing that his culpability for the deaths of people in the Grantham flood disaster had been covered up, persuaded the Premier that she should put her own self-interest ahead of assisting the truth to come out, and refuse to appear before a Senate Inquiry into the disaster;

  3. (c)  each plaintiff was a corrupt businessman in that he was able to build an airport in breach of all laws by reason of his connections with the Premier, Campbell Newman, and other officials in Local Government and State Government;

  4. (d)  each plaintiff constructed an airport in Toowoomba and had broken all the rules in the construction of the airport.

4BC and Mr Jones sought to defend only one of the four defamatory imputations conveyed by the broadcasts, namely that each of the plaintiffs constructed an airport in Toowoomba and had broken all the rules in the construction of the airport. 4BC and Mr Jones sought to establish that this imputation was substantially true, but have failed to do so.

The offer to make amends made by Mr Jones, 2GB and 4BC on 27 November 2015 was not, in all the circumstances, reasonable. The plaintiffs’ non-acceptance of the offer to make amends does not, therefore, constitute a defence to the plaintiffs’ claims.

In the result, Mr Jones, 2GB and 4BC have failed to establish any defence to the defamatory matters published.

Prior to the publication of the defamatory broadcasts, each plaintiff enjoyed an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity, both in business and community circles. The publication of the defamatory broadcasts was very extensive. The defamatory broadcasts have caused each of the plaintiffs to suffer profound personal hurt and harm to their reputations, which includes their business reputations.

Mr Jones, for whose conduct 2GB and 4BC are vicariously liable:

  1. (a)  engaged in unjustifiable conduct; and

  2. (b)  was motivated by a desire to injure the plaintiffs’ reputations;

which conduct and motivation increased the harm to the plaintiffs’ feelings and reputations.

The full text of the judgement is published by the court here.


Macquarie Media responded to the decision saying that  “2GB is disappointed by the decision today of the Supreme Court of Queensland. The decision follows a hard-fought legal battle between 2GB and the Queensland-based Wagner brothers, following a series of broadcasts on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show concerning the Grantham floods and the Toowoomba airport.

“2GB, 4BC and Mr Jones will be considering carefully their appeal options. As injunctions now restrain them, nothing further can be said at this time.”

Alan Jones AO said in relation to the decision: “I need to read the entire judgment very carefully. I do feel that I have somehow let down the people of the Lockyer Valley who sought my assistance. As the judge found in this case, I sought to ventilate concerns expressed to me by those people.

I am restrained in what I can say because I am now subject to injunctions and will be making no further comment.”

See also: 2GB disappointed at defamation verdict, not expecting such large damages


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