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Sydney solicitor admits deception of David Jones in failed defamation bid

A Sydney solicitor who admitted in court to acts of deception in a David Jones store has lost a defamation bid against a small website.

user iconNaomi Neilson 14 September 2023 Big Law
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During evidence before the Federal Court, Simone Selkirk admitted to engaging in acts of deception on 17 separate occasions over two years by presenting false online purchase invoice emails to David Jones in order to obtain a refund for “returned goods”.

She was convicted on 16 counts of dishonestly obtaining a financial advantage by deception, one count of obtaining financial advantage and seven counts of dealing with property the proceeds of crime. Ms Selkirk successfully appealed all convictions because the prosecution was unable to prove where she obtained the goods.

In Federal Court evidence earlier this month, Ms Selkirk said under examination she “conceded deception”.

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On Wednesday (13 September), Justice David O’Callaghan said given she admitted the deception in court – but not dishonesty – he could not accept an article published by MyLocalPages about the matter “could have caused her reputation to be made worse”.

“It is true the convictions were quashed on grounds that included the Crown had not proven ‘dishonesty’ within the meaning of the statute, but where Ms Selkirk conceded that what she did was nonetheless deceitful, in my view, she proffered a distinction without a relevant difference,” Justice O’Callaghan found in his written judgment.

Ms Selkirk had alleged MyLocalPages and owner Martin Wyatt had made her out to be a fraudster, scammer and criminal.

In evidence, Mr Wyatt explained MyLocalPages was a registered RSS that took content from major news sites and fed it through artificial intelligence (AI) before it published it on its own site.

The article was taken from News Corporation. Ms Selkirk pursued defamation action against News Corp but settled on the basis that the article be taken down, the Federal Court noted.

Counsel for Mr Wyatt and MyLocalPages argued the AI had turned the News Corp article into “gibberish” and submitted the ordinary reader would have to “squint really hard to read the gobbledygook”.

In examples provided by the Federal Court, “Simone Olivia will appeal after being found guilty” had been turned into “Simone Olivia will attraction soon after remaining uncovered responsible”.

Mr Wyatt added, and Justice O’Callaghan agreed, that three people, one of whom was Ms Selkirk, had viewed the article on the website.

Justice O’Callaghan also found Ms Selkirk’s evidence went no further than the “vague assertions” that between February and September 2022, the process of finding a job was impacted by the article.

“Even if those things were attributable to the publication of the article – and I emphasise, there is no evidence of that whatsoever – I do not accept that those things constitute ‘serious harm’,” he said.

Justice O’Callaghan added the only particular or serious harm alleged by Ms Selkirk was that her “professional reputation depends on her integrity as an admitted member of the legal profession”, which the imputations had put at “serious risk”.

“The immediate difficulty with the plea, and with the evidence led in support of it, is that neither address[es] the critical question of whether the publication of the article caused any, let alone any serious, harm to Ms Selkirk,” Justice O’Callaghan found.

For those reasons, Justice O’Callaghan found Ms Selkirk had not proven the publication caused, or was likely to cause, serious harm.

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