A dispute between two tenants over a sign at the Turner Village Shopping Centre ended up in court.
A dispute between two tenants over a sign at the Turner Village Shopping Centre ended up in court. Real Commercial

Cafe owner 'bled dry' by sign dispute ordered to pay $12,000

A SHOPKEEPER successfully sued a cafe operator who threatened to "knock his block off" and called him a "fool" in an email to four people.

Ian Larard falsely accused Gerry Clarke, a fellow tenant at Turner Park Shopping Village in Beerwah, of harassing him and his two-year-old son in a dispute over the size of a sign on February 14 last year.

The defamatory accusations were contained in an email to the North Coast Body Corporate Management Services and the committee of the body corporate. In the email, the Cafe Beerwah operator accused Mr Clarke of crossing the carpark, "babbling about the size of the sign" and blocking him with his body.

"I had to physically push my way past the fool more than once, if I did not have my son and carrying bank deposit book and a shopping bag I would have knocked his head off," an excerpt of the email stated.

Larard also requested the body corporate send an immediate letter which asked Mr Clarke to respect his privacy, and express his wish not to receive emails from him or speak to him. The details of the matter were published in a District Court of Queensland judgment delivered by Judge Reid in Brisbane on December 4.

The judge found elements of Larard's account of the confrontation were false, and CCTV supported Mr Clarke's version of events.

Judge Reid found the defendant had in fact been "physically confronting" as CCTV showed him taking a step directly towards the plaintiff twice in an "aggressive frame of mind".

Larard backed away each time, before the defendant left towards the shops and he got in his car and drove away.

Judge Reid awarded Mr Clarke damages of $12,840 including interest, significantly less than the $250,000 plus interest he had requested.

Mr Clarke claimed the publication of the email had damaged his personal and professional reputation, and caused him hurt, distress and embarrassment.

Judge Reid stated the recipients of the email were "well acquainted with the plaintiff" and defendant, and therefore unlikely to be seriously influenced by the publication.

He said consolation for personal distress and hurt, and vindication in the minds of the public were of greater relevance to awarding damages.

Larard was not present in the trial, but had argued in his defence the words used in the email were not defamatory, that it was "mere general abuse". Judge Reid deemed this was without foundation.

Larard had made no apology or retraction, as requested by the plaintiff. Larard said he had insufficient funds to pay for counsel at the trial and had been "bled" by the proceedings, and he was "nearly bankrupt".

Judge Reid accepted there may be doubt about whether the damages would ever be recovered, and ordered Larard be restrained from further false assertions about the events of February 14 last year.