By Susan Falvella-Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The discovery phase of a $100 million libel suit arising from the controversial book "The Committee" reached a new level this week in Washington.
Sean McPhilemy, author of "The Committee: Political Assassinations in Northern Ireland," was deposed by the attorneys for the parties bringing suit against him.
David and Albert Prentice, car dealers from Portadown, Co. Armagh, started legal proceedings against McPhilemy and his U.S. publishers, Roberts Rinehart, last year in U.S. Superior Court in the District of Columbia because of accusations against them leveled in the book.
McPhilemy alleged in the book that the Prentice brothers were two of the 24 members of the Ulster Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee — a group that allegedly targeted leaders in the nationalist community for assassination.
"We did not publish the book in Great Britain, because of the libel laws," said Jim Keener, a spokesman for Roberts Rinehart. "That’s why they were forced to sue here."
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Attorneys for the Prentice brothers have said the well-known car dealers now have concerns over personal safety for themselves and their families in addition to a clouded business reputation since the book’s publication.
"Our clients have not been given notice that they will be deposed at this time," said an attorney from the office of Zuckerman, Sp’der, Goldstein, Taylor and Kolker, the firm representing the Prentices.
Regarding McPhilemy’s deposition, the attorney said the author had been deposed in the firm’s office on Monday and the deposition could take several days to complete.
The attorney would not say whether any effort to come to an agreement outside of court was taking place between the author and the brothers.
McPhilemy has called for an independent public inquiry to look into what he alleges is the existence of the secret committee.
Before the book’s publication, a documentary made by McPhilemy was aired by Britain’s Channel 4 Television. The documentary charged that there was such a group as the committee. At that time, Jim Sands, a unionist who was the main source of the program’s allegations, identified the Prentice brothers as members. After the airing of the documentary, Sands disavowed the allegation and in recent weeks has once again given seemingly conflicting accounts.
McPhilemy has alleged that Sands withdrew his accusation because of intense pressure from the RUC.
Keener said that about 55,000 copies of "The Committee" had been sold to date. "That’s pretty small and it has never been picked up by any of the mainstream American media," he said.