A DEBT collector has been ordered to pay €22,500 damages to a woman who judge said was harassed, bullied and intimidated in over a disputed debt with a building contractor.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan today ruled that debt collector Patrick McCartan, of Greenbank Solutions, Rathgannon, Warrenpoint, Co Down, should pay damages to Deirdre Sullivan from Clontarf, Dublin, who had all but imprisoned her in own home during August of last year.
Mr McCartan had "outrageously violated" her constitutional rights by engaging in "deplorable conduct," and had engaged in behaviour "which in a civilised society cannot be tolerated." the Judge said.
The High Court judge had previously ruled that Ms Sullivan was entitled to a permanent injunction preventing Mr McCartan from contacting, watching or besetting her.
Ms Sullivan, represented by Yvonne McNamara Bl, brought proceedings against Mr McCartan, as well as against Gerard Boylan and Gerard Boylan Building Contractors Ltd, Drumboat, Inniskeen, Dundalk, Co Louth, who had hired Mr McCartan.
The Judge said Ms Sullivan engaged Mr Boylan and his company to carry out building works at her property, which concluded in May 2012. She paid them €84,000. However a dispute arose over whether certain works had been carried out.
The Boylan contractors hired Mr McCartan to recover what they claimed was a debt owed to them of €20,000. The debt is disputed by Ms Sullivan.
The Judge noted she initially thought Mr McCartan was an intermediary.
However, she got an e-mail from him demanding payment.
Mr McCartan sent her texts and emails in early August demanding payment of the debt claimed by the builders. McCartan also made a number of telephone calls to her.
One message stated "My calls and presence will continue. I will embarrass you to your neighbours if you continue." In another e-mail she was told to "pay up and save yourself all the embarrassment."
In late August, she received an email from McCartan saying he would be "in attendance" outside her home due to her failure to settle up.
McCartan said he would also "start knocking on doors and telling her neighbours" until the money was paid.
When she arrived home she found a Northern Ireland registered van, with the sign "Licensed Debt Collectors" prominently displayed on it, in front of her house. The Gardai were called, and held discussions with Mr McCartan. He then left but the Gardai told her they were powerless to stop him returning.
The Judge said that despite being asked to desist by Ms Sullivan's lawyers, the harassment continued.
Another text from Mr McCartan read "Madam, solicitors are money grabbing hoods without the mask. Do not threaten me with an uneducated
(solicitor) as most were fraud in the the good times. You have till Monday to put €20k in my account or else."
Greatly upset and frightened by this, Ms Sullivan sought, in late August, an injunction against the debt collector and the builders. The Judge said the Boylan parties gave the court appropriate undertakings, and ended Mr McCartan's retainer.
Mr McCartan had never appeared in court nor was he legally represented at any of the hearings, he added.
"Few things are more important the security of one's own dwelling and the right to come and go from that abode without interference" the Judge said.
"It is only when that security has been threatened by intruders that we realise how important that sense of safety, security and general sense of repose from the cares of the world actually is."
There could be little doubt that Mr McCartan's behaviour amounted to prima facie breaches of sections of the non fatal offences against the person act. The demands were clearly made to alarm and humiliate her he added.
He also held that Mr McCartan had breached her constitutional rights to the protection of the person. What was objectionable about his conduct was its persistent, premeditated, unyielding and oppressive character.
He ordered that Mr McCartan should pay her general damages of €15,000 and a further €7,500 exemplary damages for his behaviour.