Wednesday 21 February 2018

Father and daughter awarded €15k for false imprisonment after being accused of shoplifting

Stock Picture
Stock Picture

Tim Healy

A father and his daughter have been awarded €15,000 damages after the High Court found they had been falsely imprisoned when told they had not paid for all the goods they got in a supermarket.

James Hennessy, North Circular Road, Dublin, and his daughter Michelle Hennessy, Dunard Avenue, off Blackhorse Avenue in Dublin, sued Iceland Stores Ireland Ltd over the incident at its Maple Centre, Navan Road, outlet on March 6, 2014.

They were awarded €15,000 in the Circuit Court for defamation and false imprisonment.

Iceland appealed the decision.

High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly found while they had not been defamed, they were "entirely innocent" and had been falsely imprisoned on an entirely mistaken basis as it was shown they had paid for all the items they got.

While dismissing the defamation aspect of the claim, the €15,000 awarded by the Circuit Court appeared to be commensurate with what had happened to them, he said.

The judge also said, in making his decision, he was entitled to take into account Iceland had pleaded that a member of security staff had "discreetly" asked the Hennessys whether they had any unpaid items in their shopping bag when no such evidence was adduced to that effect. 

The judge also said, apart from the Hennessys, the court had only heard evidence from the manager of the store, who did not witness the incident, but did come some time afterwards an apologised to them for what happened.   Two store assistants who approached them initially had also not given evidence, he said.

The court heard the Hennessys, represented by John Nolan BL, had gathered a number of items in their hands before going up and paying for them.  They bought two plastic bags to put them in.

As they headed towards the exit, two shop assistants approached, and they were told "a couple of items had not been paid for".   One of the assistants stood just outside the exit while the other stood beside the Hennessys inside the store.

Mr Hennessy said they had a receipt and all had been paid for although they were not asked to produce the receipt.

Ms Hennessy started removing all the items from the bags and putting them on the floor.  In the meantime, her father asked to see the manager who eventually arrived and apologised.

Mr Justice Kelly said the defamation claim could not proceed because it was not published to third parties at the time the alleged defamatory statement was made. 

Even if it can be said there was defamation by action because other customers did arrive when Ms Hennessy was emptying the bags, this was an instance of qualified privilege whereby a statement is made to a person entitled to receive it.   Members of the public were not entitled to receive this information and the defendant had a legal right to protect his property, he said.

The false imprisonment was "very different" and there was no doubt the Hennessys were prevented from leaving the store by one member of staff standing outside and another inside and would have been stopped if they attempted to leave.  

The judge rejected the store manager's claim the assistant standing outside was on his break.

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