Saturday 24 February 2018

Garden centre closing down sale turned into 'free for all', court hears

Albert Crowley, owner of Fountains and Decor Gardening Centre, leaving court after giving evidence in the opening day of his High Court action for damages. Pic: Collins
Albert Crowley, owner of Fountains and Decor Gardening Centre, leaving court after giving evidence in the opening day of his High Court action for damages. Pic: Collins

A PUBLIC auction for a closing down sale of thousands of items of stock from a gardening and decor centre turned into a "free-for-all" because of lack of proper supervision, the High Court heard.

People were walking out  with goods under their arms from Fountains and Décor, formerly on the Naas Road in Dublin, and had to be challenged to put them back, owner Albert Crowley said.

Others were loading up wheelbarrows and trolleys "taking anything they could", he said.

"Mayhem had broken out on the day of the auction".

Mr Crowley and his wife Helga are suing Wilson Car Auctions, Newtownabbey, Co Down, for negligence and breach of duty over the lack of organisation and supervision at the auction in the gardening centre premises a few days after it had ceased trading in February, 2004.

Wilsons deny the claim and  have counter-claimed that the Crowleys are liable to them for clearing out the property, re-installing CCTV security equipment which should not have been removed, and wrongful retention of certain items from the centre.

The court heard the Crowleys had agreed to sell their business, along with their adjoining home at Kingswood, for EURO 4.75m to Wilsons.  The sale went ahead by private treaty and the business was later relocated to Monesterevin in Kildare.

As Wilsons were in the auctioneering business, they suggested, and it was agreed by Mr Crowly, the stock should be sold by auction by them (Wilsons), along with the contents of the Crowley home.

The stock consisted of thousands of gardening items including expensive granite, terracotta and wooden furniture.

The Crowleys claim much of it was sold for well below the minimum 50 per cent of retail price agreed with Wilsons.

James Dwyer SC, for the couple, said their side was claiming the auction should have realised €620,000 and Wilsons had only paid €170,000.

There was no proper organisation or supervision on the day of the auction which was "chaotic", counsel said.  "A charitable description would be a free-for-all and no control was kept as to who was entitled to take what," he said.

Mr Crowley, who was selling in order to scale down his business because of heart problems, said his heart beat went up when he saw what was happening.

"I had a couple of stents (surgically inserted tubes to unblock arteries) and I thought they were going to jump out", he said.

He saw Ricky Wilson, operations manager for the Wilson premises in Kingswood, going around the 12,000 square metre yard with about six people following him.

Mr Crowley said Mr Wilson came to an antique granite trough, worth some €800 or €900, and asking if anyone would bid him €50. "There were one or two more bids and it was sold for €150".

He saw Mr Wilson's brother in the shop at the centre doing something similar "but worse".  The brother, whose name he could remember, sold a real terracotta vase, worth  €300, for well below value.

Three timber barrels were sold for €50 and when the buyer asked about another three beside them, he was told he could "have them".

When he approached Ricky Wilson to demand the auction be stopped, he

(Wilson) assured him that when it resumed it would be in accordance with the agreement on how the auction was to be conducted, he said.

However, Mr Crowley said, the auction of the house contents was just

as bad with a new €6,000 leather suite sold for €40.  

Buyers were given just a few minutes to see the contents of the house they bought it, he said.

The next day, he said, when people arrived to collect items they had bought there was no security system to check receipts confirming sales.

The case continues before Ms Justice Marie Baker.

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