Two settled Traveller cousins from Taghmon, who won a Circuit Court defamation case against the Borough District of Wexford council, have each been awarded €10,000 in damages.
James (Jimmy) Murphy, of 16 Monastery Avenue, Taghmon, and Michael Murphy, of Mulmintra, Taghmon, brought their case before Judge Eoin Garavan at Wexford Circuit Civil Court.
Both told the court that a defamatory statement, alleging they were connected with the theft of bag which turned out not to have been stolen, was made at the Ferrybank swimming pool in front of a large number of patrons and members of the gardai.
Their counsel, Cephis Power, instructed by solicitor Cormac Dunleavy, said cousins Michael Murphy and James Murphy were at the pool as customers, when another patron complained that his bag had gone missing from a locker.
Mr Power said his clients are settled members of the Travelling community, who had never been in trouble before or since the incident at the pool.
They are cousins of impeccablly good character, he said, and had a habit of going to the swimming pool and gym each week.
The loss of the bag was reported to gardai and when Garda Donal Doyle arrived, he approached a group of 15 to 20 settled people, only to be verbally directed towards James and Michael Murphy by a member of staff, which Mr Power said amounted to 'an inflammatory statement done in the presence of others'.
James Murphy told the court that the garda walked over towards the settled people, but a member of the swimming pool staff re-directed him saying 'no, not them' and pointed out the Travelling group, which included himself and Michael.
The garda, he said, then asked them to go outside where they talked.
Garda Doyle told them a bag had been reported stolen from a locker, but they denied being responsible.
The CCTV footage was checked and they were told to wait around.
He said that when he and Michael who went down to the locker room with the garda they were told the bag had been found.
Mr Murphy said he had never in trouble in his life, adding, that he had no issue with the garda who was just doing his job. He also said that he was very embarrassed by what happened and had not used the premises since this incident.
Questioned by Defence Counsel William Fitzgerald James Murphy said it had not been fully explained to him what had happened on the day, but he understood it was to do with the theft of a bag and clothes.
Garda Doyle said that when he arrived, he spoke with member of the reception desk staff who said a theft had taken place and that the people believed involved were still on the premises.
He was brought to the gym by another member of staff who pointed out the Travelling group. Garda Doyle said that as he did not want to make a scene he asked the cousins outside and spoke with them.
They denied any involvement and Garda Doyle said he believed they were telling the truth.
He said that when he viewed the CCTV footage he believed that neither James or Michael Murphy had gone near this area of the locker room.
Judge Garavan said that while there were gaps in the evidence he would have to determine in favour of the plaintiffs. He awarded the cousins €10,000 each in damages with costs.
There was no evidence given about where the bag was found.