A LONDON head chef, who claimed that Dublin Bus has turned his family holiday in Ireland into a nightmare after accusing them of not paying a correct fare, has been awarded damages in the Circuit Civil Court.
Judge Elma Sheahan said bus inspector David Byrne had been reckless and had used an unwarranted tone and words towards Kamel Bouazza, who claimed he was defamed after being ordered off the 747 airport bus although his family rambler ticket was valid.
Bouazza said that two years ago he was on holiday in Dublin with his young family and used a Leapcard to travel to their hotel which was close to the airport. He said the four-day family travel ticket entitled them to unlimited travel in Dublin.
He told his barrister, Bonnie Hickey, who appeared with solicitors Lawlor Partners, that he was familiar with the Leapcard system as there was a similar service in London.
When they boarded the bus after a day in Dublin city centre he had successfully scanned his Leapcard and the family was on their way upstairs when the driver, Xin He, said: “Come here” and had asked him to place the card on his screen reader.
Bouazza said that as the light flashed green again, he thought that it was ok and the family proceeded upstairs. Mr Xin He had kept saying “This is not right.”
Judge Sheahan heard that inspector Byrne had later approached the family and said in front of other passengers: “This is a private bus and everybody has paid €7. Get out.” Dublin Bus denied this had ever happened.
Bouazza claimed the inspector had taken his Leapcard and had gone downstairs before returning with it and telling him: “Carry on.”
The court heard that as the inspector had not apologised, Bouazza had followed him downstairs and asked both him and the driver, who had been “laughing in his face,” for an apology. He claimed he had been told to lodge a complaint with the company.
Bouazza told Gerard O’Herlihy, solicitor for Dublin Bus, that he and his family had felt embarrassed and ashamed and the company had ruined his holiday. “Ireland is now a nightmare for us because of you,” he said.
Eoin Perth, a passenger in the bus who gave evidence on behalf of Bouazza, said inspector Byrne was confrontational and accusatory and used an inappropriate tone. Byrne had been very firm that the ticket was not valid.
Bus Inspector Byrne said he had been walking on O’Connell Street when he noticed the bus had been stopped for a while. He had got on and was informed by the driver that there was confusion as to the number of adults.
After he had been satisfied it was the correct ticket, he had told the driver to head on. He denied having been accusatory towards Bouazza and claimed the South London head chef had been very defensive and aggressive.
The bus driver denied having laughed in Bouazza’s face and claimed that he had felt very intimidated by the man and, in order to calm himself down, had smiled.
Judge Sheahan said she preferred the oral testimonies given by Bouazza and Perth. “I am unable to find a basis for the actions of the inspector who, in advance of checking the ticket or the number of people, told the Bouazza family to get off,” she said.
The judge said the extent of the publication of the defamation was limited to the people present in the bus and his reputation had been restored when he was allowed to continue his journey. Bouazza had claimed damages of up to €75,000. The judge awarded him €4,000 and his legal costs.