Petty Neighbourhood Squabble ends in Court

A Balmain neighbour has been ordered to pay $300,000 in damages plus interest and legal costs for defaming her neighbour on “A Current Affair” in a 2016 broadcast. Rothman J found the neighbour’s comments on the television broadcast were defamatory of Mr Cosco.

Interestingly, the Plaintiff Ms Cosco did not claim against the owner of Channel 9 or the current affairs program, only his neighbour, Ms Hutley, who made comments on the current affairs program that the neighbour had “put her family through hell” and that he had bullied her and her family and endangered their lives.

Ms Hutley claimed the truth as a defence to the defamation proceedings as Mr Cosco had pleaded guilty to spraying expanding foam into a vent on Ms Hutley’s property. Notwithstanding, Rothman J was scathing in his assessment of Ms Hutley finding against her in the defamation proceedings and finding that Ms Hutley was the antagonist.

A construction worker who was working on Mr Cosco’s property gave an account that Ms Hutley had said they were “dumb foreigners” who couldn’t add up and were “sh*t as humans”.

The Court found that the overwhelming evidence was that Ms Hutley and her family had engaged in a “tirade of abuse and threats” against Mr Cosco and his construction workers.

Before the broadcast, Mr Cosco had a reputation of a good competent builder, an honest and reliable boss for whom others wanted to work. He was well-respected, well-liked and popular.

But his reputation suffered dramatically after the broadcast.

The story does not end here as Ms Hutley has filed an appeal since the original decision was handed down in August. The enforcement of the judgment has been halted, pending a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal. As a condition to the stay of the judgment, Ms Hutley was required to deposit $450,000 as security for costs.

Despite the appeal, the case should prove a cautionary tale in how not to conduct relations with neighbours regardless of where the fault lies.

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