Wednesday 16 October 2019

€75,000 claim thrown out over 'allegations' of watch 'theft' at airport

Man had his pockets and luggage searched on plane

Alan Collins at the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins Courts
Alan Collins at the Four Courts yesterday. Photo: Collins Courts

Ray Managh

A security officer who turned out his pockets and had his carry-on luggage searched by police on a plane following "an alleged theft" at Dublin Airport has lost his €75,000 claim for defamation.

Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin said that airport police, as agents of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), had at all material times behaved responsibly in their investigation into the theft of a Giorgio Armani watch.

Barrister Shane English, in defence of the DAA, told Alan Collins in the Circuit Civil Court that the DAA was not only categorically stating he was not the thief who snatched the watch from a woman's check-in basket at security in the airport or from duty free, but were also categorically stating he had never been a thief.

Counsel told Mr Collins, of Fortlawn Drive, Blanchardstown, Dublin, he was wrong in claiming he had been accused of stealing the watch in duty free as there had been no such theft. The theft, as shown on CCTV, had taken place from a basket that had passed through a security check.

Mr Collins claimed he had been approached while sitting with his partner on a Ryanair plane about to take off for Alicante when he had been one of a number of men, who apparently bore a resemblance to each other, spoken to by airport police officers Aisling Sutcliffe and Jessica O'Brien.

He claimed they said to him: "We wish to speak to you. We wish to speak to you concerning a theft from duty free. You were seen on CCTV taking a watch from duty free."

Mr English told Mr Collins it was impossible for these words to have been spoken to him on the aircraft since there had not been a theft from duty free on that day, April 22, 2017.

Counsel said he had been invited to step off the plane for the sake of privacy but had refused. He had voluntarily turned out his pockets and had allowed his carry-on bag to be searched at the service area on the plane.

Mr Collins said that when police officers considered he fitted the description they had been given of the thief, he had been asked to stand up and show his identification.

He had refused to step off the plane as there was no way he was going to miss his flight. He told them he had done no wrong, and they could search him and his bag on the plane.

The officers told the court they had not accused him of stealing a watch from duty free and had not spoken the words they were accused of saying. They were investigating the theft of a watch stolen from the security line.

In a full defence to the claim, Mr English said Mr Collins had not been requested to be searched on the aircraft in front of passengers. He refused several offers to disembark and have the matter discussed in private.

Mr English said the airport police officers concerned were entitled to fully investigate the report of the stolen watch and enjoyed the protection of qualified privilege in doing so.

The judge said the defence of qualified privilege had been made out by the defendant. Dismissing Mr Collins's €75,000 claim, the judge said she did not accept the police officers had spoken the words complained of. She made no order regarding costs.

Irish Independent

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