A BUSINESSMAN who was cleared of wielding his shotgun at a bailiff acting for ACC Bank has accused the bank of putting him through a "horrific ordeal".
In a case that highlights the ugly confrontations that can follow when banks close in on debtors, Sam Deacon said he was so intimidated by asset recovery agents dispatched to seize his machinery that he picked up his unloaded double-barrelled shotgun.
Mr Deacon, who owns Drumderry Aggregate, appeared in Gorey District Court last week charged with "producing a gun in an intimidatory fashion".
He was found not guilty after the court concluded the evidence given by the asset recovery agent Aidan Faulkner wasn't credible. Faulkner, a former soldier, was convicted last month of assaulting a Mayo man who owed €843 to ACC. But at Mr Deacon's trial, Faulkner denied that he had any convictions and the judge found his evidence evasive.
The case is one of a small but growing number involving assets recovery agents dispatched by banks to repossess cars, machinery and other moveable goods from customers who fall behind with their repayments.
Mr Deacon's was the third such case to come before the courts since January. Last month, Aidan Faulkner was convicted in Castlebar District Court of head-butting Pat Ruane.
And in another case, farmer Pat Barrington was accused of pointing a gun at a security guard sent in by receivers appointed to his recycling business.
Barrington was handed down a six-month suspended sentence in his local district court in January. A number of other cases are pending before the courts.
Mr Deacon never denied that he took up his weapon, saying he did so to make the two asset recovery agents leave his land. He claimed that ACC seemed intent on seizing his machinery, even though he was in talks with the bank in the High Court to sort out the debt.
"It's been a horrific two-and-a-half years. The relief of it being over is just . . . I can't believe what I've been through," he said. "All that was in their head was taking the gear. There was a hell of a lot of equity in the stuff and it was all very saleable stuff.
"It was worth an awful lot more than I owed."
Mr Deacon's troubles began in 2009 when he fell behind on some of his loan payments to ACC. He took out five loans to help pay for expensive machinery he needed for his pre-cast concrete business that employed 100 people at the height of the boom.
In September 2009, ACC terminated the loan contracts. Mr Deacon said that money he lodged to clear the loans didn't show up on his accounts and there were other discrepancies in how much he actually owed.
At first ACC said he owed €113,920, but the figure changed to €129,000, then it was €115,000, and finally it became €124,000. After months in the High Court, Mr Deacon eventually agreed a figure of €120,000 with ACC, which he paid off with the help of friends and family.
He was still in the thick of the dispute with ACC when the bank sent in the asset recovery agents.
In his statement to gardai, Mr Deacon said: "I asked him to leave the yard and at this point a man got out of the passenger seat of the van and approached me saying who is going to make us." Faulkner came towards him, and was "aggressive and threatening".
"I had nobody with me and it was two against one. I have a legally held firearm that I keep with me in the jeep for vermin control . . . I took out the empty gun, locked it closed and told them to get out," Mr Deacon said in his statement.
"I had no intention of using the gun against anybody. I felt intimidated and threatened and that's why I took up the gun. I did not point or threaten to use it. I just picked it up and shouted at them to get out and they did."
Faulkner and his colleague, Paddy Murphy, gave a different version of events, claiming that an agitated Mr Deacon pointed the gun at them and gave the men three seconds to get off the site or he would "shoot them".
Under cross-examination, Faulkner denied that he was a former soldier or that he had any convictions while giving evidence against Mr Deacon. But Mr Ruane, the man he assaulted, was in court to contradict him.