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Used car salesman's defo claim against Pangallo, Today Tonight fails

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A court has found that former Today Tonight reporter turned SA-BEST MP Frank Pangallo behaved in an “egregious”, “aggressive” and “intimidatory” fashion when he confronted a used car salesman in 2012 – but a defamation claim over the resulting TV story has been dismissed.

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The incident involved Pangallo, a Today Tonight film crew and a woman – who complained of receiving no refund on an unsatisfactory Nissan Skyline – and her mother, confronting Benjamin Eustice at his North Plympton used car lot, according to a judgement of the Supreme Court.

Months earlier, Faith Okoegwale had bought a Holden Commodore from the car lot, dealing primarily with Benjamin’s father, Andrew Eustice, who had told her he recently renewed the vehicle’s registration online.

He said he would post the registration papers to her – hopefully by the end of the week.

Okoegwale was later given registration papers, but they were out-of-date, and she eventually came back to the car yard, returned the Commodore and bought a Nissan Skyline from the same car lot instead.

Benjamin Eustice sold the Skyline to her as “a 2010 car” but it had been manufactured in 1998.

As Okoegwale drove away from the car lot that day, she noticed that it was “very wobbly” and “really, really shaky”, and that she did not feel safe in it.

According to the judgement, she and Benjamin Eustice exchanged text messages:

Okoegwale: The car is wobbly.

Eustice: Hey Faith my phone died. What to you men (sic.) wobbly? I think its because it’s a sports car?

Okoegwale: I suspect something is wrong with its tyres as it hardly moves straight.

Eustice: Ah no its because its lowered. It takes some time to get used to it …

When Okoegwale tried to insure the vehicle she discovered that it was in fact manufactured in 1998.

The judge also found Eustice’s conduct towards Okoegwale ‘amply warrants the description ‘a snake’, ‘a crook’ and ‘a fraudster”.

Later in the day, Okoegwale messaged Eustice:

Okoegwale: Ben, U sold me a 1999 (sic.) car for a 2010 model.

Eustice: Hey I have been busy Now the car is a 98 built 2010 complied So therefore it is a 2010

Okoegwale returned the Skyline to the car lot and Eustice soon sold the vehicle to a new customer.

But he failed to refund Okoegwale the purchase price.

So she approached Today Tonight for help and according to the judgement, Pangallo “provided assistance” to her “with alacrity”.

The then-reporter arrived at the car lot with the Today Tonight TV crew and the aggrieved customer, and her mother, in November 2012, to conduct what Supreme Court Justice Kevin Nicholson described as a “foot in the door” interview.

Eustice was “harried, hounded and hollered at by both the second and third defendants (Pangallo and Okoegwale)”.

“The conduct of the second defendant and his posse was quite egregious,” the judgement reads.

“During the visit, the second and third defendants shouted demands of the plaintiff generally along the lines of “Where’s her money” or “Where’s my money” but gave him little opportunity to answer.

“The conduct of (Pangallo) and (Okoegwale) was aggressive, intimidatory and plainly very distressing to the plaintiff.”

Okoegwale and her mother chased Eustice through the car yard and outside and eventually caught up with him, physically brought him to the ground and tore the shirt off his back, after which he ran off down the street bare-chested.

Both women were subsequently charged with and pleaded guilty to assault.

Eustice filed a defamation suit against Channel Seven, Pangallo and Okoegwale over the Today Tonight report featuring the incident.

He argued that the TV story, which was broadcast both in Adelaide and interstate and uploaded to YouTube, portrayed him as a “crook”, a “snake”, a “fraudster” and a “convicted criminal”.

What was reported was correct and I make no apologies for the approach I took in producing the story

But the court found the imputations justified – noting Eustice’s prior convictions for shoplifting and that he had recently been arrested and was facing 21 criminal charges of fraud in the Southport Magistrates Court in Queensland.

The fact that he had been charged was not disputed.

The judge also found the Eustice’s conduct towards Okoegwale “amply warrants the description “a snake”, “a crook” and “a fraudster””.

And he found that when Eustice was giving evidence in the case, “it was very often not possible to know whether his purported recollection was a reliable recollection, whether it was a product of unreliable reconstruction or whether, particularly where the evidence was in his own interest, it was deliberately untruthful”.

Eustice’s defamation claim was dismissed.

Pangallo told InDaily this afternoon that: “I invite people to read the judgement.”

“What was reported was correct and I make no apologies for the approach I took in producing the story.”

You can read the judgement here.

InDaily has contacted Seven for comment.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the defamation dispute was in the District Court. It was in fact in the Supreme Court.

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