Restaurant owners win libel damages over negative newspaper review

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Sydney restaurant owners win libel case against newspaper for scathing review


A Sydney newspaper has lost its 11-year libel battle with three restaurant owners over a scathing review by one of its journalists.

The landmark case has sparked fears over freedom of speech issues among some.

The review of the Coco Roco restaurant in Sydney, Australia, was written by Matthew Evans in 2003 and published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to the Daily Telegraph, some of the descriptions included the pork belly being likened to "the porcine equal of a parched Weetabix", while the roast chicken was described as "outstandingly dull" and readers were warned to "stay home".

The review gave the eatery a nine out of 20 score.

The £1.7 million restaurant closed six months later, and one of the owners, Ljiljana Gacic, a former Miss Adriatic beauty queen, told the New South Wales Supreme Court she gained nine stone and attempted suicide after the review.

A long and drawn out legal battle ensued, with the paper finally losing its case after the court ruled it failed to adequately point out that Coco Roco included two restaurants, and that Evans had not been reviewing the bistro-style Roco, rather the upmarket Coco.

Former restaurateurs Aleksandra Gacic, Ljiljana Gacic and Branislav Ciric were awarded $623,526 (approx £350,000) in damages, interest and costs.

Justice Peter Hall had awarded each plaintiff $160,000 late last year, ­and last week ordered publishing company Fairfax to pay three per cent interest on the damages from the date of publication. This equated to $207,842.19 plus costs.

Evans, who quit restaurant reviewing six years ago said the ruling was "a sad day for Australian food journalism".

He told The Hobart Mercury: "I think reviewers and publications become fearful of being sued.

"You wouldn't wish being sued on anybody, and being sued for doing your job. The tragedy is I no longer write restaurant reviews."

In fact, Evans has moved to Tasmania to breed pigs, and presented a popular TV programme called Gourmet Farmer documenting his lifestyle change, reports Australia's Telegraph.

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