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Scrupulous honest agent wins defamation action

A PROMINENT Toowoomba real estate agent has successfully sued a convicted property fraudster, who once operated in Warwick, for defamation.

Darryl John Loane - who attempted to run real estate investment seminars in Warwick in 2008 while facing major fraud charges - found himself taken to court this month by Douglas Trenham of Copas First National Real Estate in Toowoomba.

The defamation action by Mr Trenham followed letters sent in June, 2010, by Mr Loane to Mr Trenham's offices and to the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ), accusing Mr Trenham of suspected trust account fraud.

The District Court in Brisbane heard that Mr Loane's brother, Paul Schmidt-Lee, was a former employee of Mr Trenham's firm and that he and Mr Trenham had had "a falling out".

Mr Loane's letters followed conversations he had with his brother in which Mr Schmidt-Lee asked Mr Loane to report his suspicions of trust account irregularities to the Office of Fair Trading, later producing what he claimed was documentary evidence in the form of a "sales deposit report".

Mr Schmidt-Lee was later convicted of hacking Mr Trenham's computer.

The court heard the accusations had left Mr Trenham "devastated, distraught and angry".

Under cross-examination in court Mr Loane, who represented himself, claimed to have simply acted in "the public interest" by referring his brother's concerns on to the OFT.

But in a 17-page judgement delivered this week District Court Judge Nicholas Samios ruled that while the OFT found there was evidence of a minor instance of one of Mr Trenham's staff not following office protocols, the OFT found there was no wrongdoing by Mr Trenham in the handling of his firm's trust account monies.

"There was no evidence a transfer of money from the trust account to the general account before settlement was frequent," Judge Samios wrote.

"There was no evidence Mr Trenham paid general operating expenses and his personal debts from trust account money."

His Honour went further, describing Mr Loane - who was jailed for 15 months in 2008 for fraudulently obtaining a property loan worth several million dollars - as "a person who was prepared to misrepresent to Mr Trenham, the Real Estate Institute of Queensland, and the OFT that he had been approached by a client for advice", and knew that his accusations were "not true".

"His statement...in the letter was not an honest statement.

"I find he had no honest basis to refer to trust account fraud on what he had been given by his brother and was not honest about being given information by his brother of a very serious nature," His Honour said.

"I find Mr Loane was prepared to act in his brother's interests whom he knew had had a falling out with Mr Trenham."

In contrast Judge Samios said he accepted all of Mr Trenham's evidence.

He also found that Mr Loane's allegations and the court case had caused Mr Trenham "significant distress".

He accepted evidence from witnesses who said Mr Trenham was "highly regarded" in the real estate industry and in general, Mr Trenham was "very scrupulous and honest".

His Honour assessed Mr Trenham's damages at $100,000 and added interest from June 14 2010 of $12,050.

Topics:  defamation, real estate agent, toowoomba


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