A judge has awarded €40,000 to a man finding he was defamed and falsely imprisoned by Dunnes Stores after being falsely accused of stealing a packet of firelighters.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Gerald Keys awarded the damages to Michael Horkan, aged 68, over the incident at Dunnes Stores in Shannon on March 31, 2015, where he was detained for 20 minutes after being accused of stealing firelighters and Fruit ’n Fibre cereal.
On the day, Mr Horkan was accompanied to the store by his wife, Caroline, who suffers from muscular dystrophy.
Judge Keys said that Dunnes had made a “huge mistake” in accusing Mr Horkan of stealing the goods and then detaining him.
In his ruling, Judge Keys said: “I find it absolutely extraordinary and just unacceptable that the hierarchy in the Dunnes empire didn’t have the decency to direct that a letter be sent to Mr Horkan apologising for the error that they made.”
In evidence, Mr Horkan said that on leaving the Dunnes outlet on the date, a Dunnes store security guard placed a hand on him and told him: “I believe you have firelighters you have not paid for.”
Mr Horkan said that the security guard told him: “We have already called the gardaí — you need to come with me.”
Mr Horkan said that he told the security man: “‘I have paid for everything’. I was not asked for a receipt at that time.”
The retired Fás employee said he was then marched down to a room by the security man. “I didn’t believe that I had a choice. I was totally in shock at that stage, I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said.
Counsel for Mr Horkan, Peter Clein, said it was the Dunnes’ defence that what he told the security guard was that he forgot to pay for the firelighters.
Mr Horkan rejected this.
Mr Horkan said there were three Dunnes staff members in the office and when he pulled the receipt for the goods out of the bag and presented it, “one of them said words to the effect of ‘oh my God’ and they all walked out”.
Mr Horkan said he remained in the office for a further 10 minutes. He said there was a Dunnes employee sitting outside the office and “I didn’t feel that I could leave the office”.
Mr Horkan left the office and on his way to find his wife, Caroline, he bumped into the two gardaí contacted by Dunnes over the incident. He said: “I approached the gardaí and I told them ‘I would like something done about this’.
In his ruling, Judge Keys said: “I think that any supermarket which has a ‘no fault’ policy in relation to suspected thefts must have a ‘no fault’ system to be absolutely sure that if they are going to confront someone and accuse them of stealing goods that they are 100% certain. It is quite clear in this situation, it didn’t happen.”
Judge Keys said he found Mr Horkan was defamed and “kept in a room where he shouldn’t have been kept”.
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