Legal action initiated against Councillors & community members

Former Wyong Mayor, Mr Doug EatonFormer Wyong Mayor, Mr Doug Eaton

Former Wyong Mayor, Mr Doug Eaton, has initiated legal action against several Central Coast Councillors and community members for alleged defamation.

“I am not saying it is not true,” Mr Eaton said when contacted by Wyong Regional Chronicle. “I can confirm that legal action is underway,” he said. “I am not going to go on the record any more than that. “The matter will be in the courts in the near future and I am not available to make comment. “It is just not appropriate when matters are before the court to make any comment. “Some time ago I made it known I was going to take action.” The Wyong Regional Chronicle has received copies of letters, via an anonymous Gmail account, addressed to Councillors Lisa Matthews and Kyle MacGregor, from Effective Legal Solutions, acting for Mr Eaton. Clr MacGregor’s letter was also addressed to Ms Ruth Punch and Ms Narelle Rich, both of whom stood as candidates in September 2017, Central Coast Council election, on the same ticket as MacGregor.

Wyong Creek resident and founding member of the Community Environment Network, Mr Laurie Eyes, has also received a letter but said he would not comment. Clr Louise Greenaway, who was named in a News Limited paper as another Councillor that Mr Eaton was taking legal action against, said that she had not received any correspondence from his lawyers. The letters are Concerns Notices, under Section 14 of the NSW Defamation Act. According to the Act, a Concerns Notice must be made in writing and informs the person(s) accused of publishing defamatory imputations, about the aggrieved person. This gives those accused of making defamatory statements 28 days to offer amends.

The Act sets out a number of subsequent steps that can be taken by both parties before the matter would be listed by either the NSW Supreme Court or the District Court, both of which deal with defamation cases in NSW. According to the Concerns Notice sent to Clr MacGregor, Mr Eaton believed he had been falsely and unfairly defamed by posts on Facebook and comments on websites during the Council election campaign. Effective Legal Solutions then listed four posts and comments which Mr Eaton considered “false and defamatory”, and that had caused Mr Eaton to “suffer ridicule and contempt”. Fewer posts and comments, and fewer imputations were listed in the letter to Clr Matthews. The Concerns Notice required the posts to be deleted from the Facebook page within seven days and for a retraction and apology, in suitable terms, to be published within seven days. Clr MacGregor said he would not be commenting on the matter and was awaiting instructions from his lawyers. Following receipt of the Concerns Notice on March 1, Clr Matthews deleted the posts from her Facebook page.

She then received an email from Effective Legal Solutions thanking her for her prompt response and stating: “In order to further mitigate our client’s damages we require you to publish the following apology on your facebook page: ‘I unreservedly withdraw any and all comments made by me or published by me on this page that were critical of Doug Eaton, the former Mayor of Wyong Council, and unreservedly apologise to him. “’I acknowledge that Mr Eaton was a competent and capable Mayor. “’Under his leadership, the finances of Wyong Council were reformed and many notable public works were built, including the Lake Haven Cinemas, the Wyong Art House and Bateau Bay Skatepark”. Clr Matthews said she would not be publishing the suggested apology. “I strongly deny any such alleged imputations,” she said. “The matter has been dealt with by my solicitors and Mr Eaton has received a response from them.”

Mr Eaton confirmed that he was the principal solicitor in the Effective Legal Solutions law firm, based at Tuggerah, the same law firm that is representing him in the alleged defamation matters. “I am the principal solicitor in a legal practice that started well over a year ago,” Mr Eaton said. Mr Eaton said he was also doing a “bit of travel and a bit of golf and a bit of consulting. “I am still working on my vineyard, I am semi-retired you might say”. Mr Eaton said he had no intention of returning to politics. “No, I’ve got no ambition to return to that,” he said. Mr Eaton said he did not think it had been “particularly helpful” for the News limited paper to publish the article about his legal matters. “Once the matters are concluded, I will be happy to comment and I am sure they will be concluded in my favour,” he said.

Source: Email, Mar 7 Anonymous Gmail account Interview, Mar 16 Doug Eaton, Effective Legal Solutions Interview, Mar 16 Kyle MacGregor, Central Coast Council Interview, Mar 16 Laurie Eyes, Wyong Creek Interview, Mar 16 Lisa Matthews, Central Coast Council Jackie Pearson, journalist