Melbourne underworld veteran Mick Gatto’s bid for retribution against the ABC has failed, with a judge ruling he was not defamed by the public broadcaster.
Mr Gatto sued the ABC over a February 2019 article which he said implied he was a hitman and murderer who had threatened to kill snitching gangland barrister Nicola Gobbo.
It also implied he was one of Australia’s most violent criminals who had been involved in the unsolved murder of fruiterer Frank Benvenuto in 2000 and the murder of Victor Peirce in 2002, he argued.
Mr Gatto claimed he initially just wanted an apology, but when that wasn’t forthcoming he sought retribution in the form of the “maximum payout” he could get.
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Andrew Keogh on Friday quashed any payout hopes, ruling the ABC and journalists Nino Bucci and Sarah Farnsworth had not defamed him.
The article – which reported on statements made by others during legal proceedings – was “entirely accurate”, the judge found.
He said it was understandable Mr Gatto was unhappy about the publication of the allegations, which were “defamatory and seriously so”.
Justice Keogh said the ABC had not claimed the allegations were true.
“To the contrary, it carefully recorded that they were no more than allegations that had been made in the course of the proceedings,” he said.
The judge described Mr Gatto as “newsworthy and a legitimate subject of public interest” and the ABC was entitled to devote a news report to parts of the proceedings that related to Mr Gatto, provided the coverage was not distorted.
“Far from being distorted, the article was entirely accurate and correlated with what occurred in those parts of the proceeding,” he said.
At most the article had implied no more than reasonable grounds to suspect Mr Gatto had threatened to kill Ms Gobbo and had been investigated – or there were reasonable grounds to investigate him, in relation to the murders of Mr Peirce and Mr Benvenuto.
Justice Keogh said there was a “gulf” between the article’s imputations and the ones Mr Gatto claimed.
Mr Gatto gave evidence during the defamation proceedings in July last year, saying he was sick of hearing about gangland connections.
He admitted running in circles with dangerous and violent men including hitman Benji Veniamin – who he killed in self-defence in 2004 – and other underworld figures including Alphonse Gangitano, Mario Condello and Lewis Caine.
But he described them as “gentlemen” and said his circle of friends also included politicians, lawyers, high-end builders and unionists.
“Very, very rarely do (the media) write an article about me saying ‘colourful businessman’. I’m sick of it,” Mr Gatto said.
Mr Gatto reached a confidential settlement with The Daily Mail last year over similar comments, accepting an apology and “significant” payout which included $55,000 in legal fees.