By Patrick Markey and Susan Falvella-Garraty
The author of the controversial book “The Committee,” which maps out alleged collusion between high-ranking members of Northern Ireland’s Protestant community and loyalist paramilitaries, was in America last week defending his work against the $100 million lawsuit filed by two men mentioned in the book.
“I’m not remotely bothered by it, not remotely,” was the defiant reply offered by Derry-born author Sean McPhilemy, reacting to the lawsuit filed in a Washington superior court Wednesday by David and Albert Prentice, the two Protestant businessmen named as members of the alleged committee.
McPhilemy’s book, based on a1991 documentary for British Channel Four television, names 23 members and five associates of a central committee, which the author’s source alleges guided loyalist paramilitaries to their targets.
Although the book has not been published in Ireland or in Britain, it has been swept up in a storm of controversial press and legal action. But even critical press has not stopped sales.
That fact was not lost on the packed crowds who came to hear McPhilemy speak at Rocky Sullivan’s in Manhattan last week, where many queued with three or four copies of the book in hand for the author to sign.
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“Every word in that book is true, every single word of it – that the people who met to run that committee were primarily concerned to defeat IRA terrorism,” McPhilemy told a rapt audience.
“But they were sectarian, they had no particular concern when entirely innocent young Catholics were murdered when they couldn’t find the people they were looking for.”
Calling the judicial system and the RUC rotten to the core, McPhilemy called for an independent inquiry and vowed to carry on “until the truth is known.”
The author met with a warm response, but there were questions from some in his audience, not over whether collusion existed, but the credibility of what he presented in his book.
Speaking to the Irish Echo a day after his appearance at Rocky Sullivan’s, McPhilemy defended his source for the story, Jim Sands, who later retracted his statements. Sands, he said, played a key role in the loyalist political community in Portadown and said he had firsthand experience of committee meetings
“We were all satisfied he was telling the truth,” he said. The retraction was bogus, because it was given to the very police force Sands was accusing of murder, McPhilemy said.
In the six years since the documentary was shown, McPhilemy said he had gathered new material and new sources, including a former RUC officer who, he claims, is willing to testify about collusion in the period before the formation of the alleged committee.
The Prentice brothers, meanwhile, remained in the U.S. only long enough to see their lawsuit served. Process servers handed over the papers to McPhilemy after the author met with members of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs in the office of Rep. Peter King on Capitol Hill.
The brothers, both wealthy car dealers, have retained the Washington law firm of Zuckerman, Sp’der, Goldstein, Taylor and Kolker and have filed their libel suit with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They are seeking a jury trial.
Two process servers sent by the law firm were waiting in the hallway outside Rep. King’s office, where Mr. McPhilemy was meeting the Ad Hoc members.
A member of King’s staff eventually ushered the two into the office, where the papers were handed over out of sight of a group of journalists who were also in the hall.
In their suit, aimed at both McPhilemy and his publisher, Colorado-based Roberts Rinehart, the Prentices claim that the book “falsely and recklessly” states that they are “members of a murder conspiracy in Northern Ireland.”
Their suit additionally states: “The book, which includes numerous false, defamatory statements about the plaintiffs, is libelous per se. It has caused and will cause the plaintiffs extreme emotional stress and financial hardship. It has severely injured the plaintiffs’ reputations in this community and the community in which they reside, and has caused them to fear for their personal safety and that of their families.”
The suit seeks $100 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
In the wake of the serving, McPhilemy issued a statement through New York attorney Russell Smith in which he stated that both he and Roberts Rinehart were being sued because they were telling the truth.
“In dragging my publisher and me into the District of Columbia Superior Court in the United States, two of the wealthiest businessmen in Northern Ireland, both alleged members of The Committee, now seek to wage a war of financial attrition. Millionaire BMW and Mercedes car dealers David and Albert Prentice seek to suppress this remarkably fast-selling book by pressuring us with legal fees and expenses in a lawsuit which I believe they know they can never win on the merits.
“We will not be intimidated, however, and we will not withdraw this book,” McPhilemy said.
“For those who have been murdered, for their families, for the sake of the truth, and for the right to speak it, we will fight this lawsuit as long as necessary. We will fight until it is either dismissed or withdrawn,” he concluded.
“The Committee” has sold more than 12,000 copies, many of them purchased by people in Ireland and Britain on the web. The book has gone into an extra print run to meet demand.
(Ray O’Hanlon contributed to this story.)