herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Court battle after gardai raid office over Clerys sale and seize laptop

The iconic Clerys clock Picture Credit: Frank Mc Grath
The iconic Clerys clock Picture Credit: Frank Mc Grath

Gardai entered the offices of an investment firm linked to the sale of Clerys as an investigation continued into the closure of the department store with the loss of more than 450 jobs.

A High Court challenge has now been launched against the powers used during the investigation into redundancies at the Dublin department store.

D2 Private Ltd and its director and owner Deirdre Foley brought the case after inspectors, along with gardai, entered the company’s offices on Harcourt Terrace on Thursday.

The inspectors had been appointed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) following the O’Connell Street store’s closure last June.

About 460 people, employed by either Clerys or concession-holders, lost their jobs.

The store closed shortly after it was sold to Natrium Ltd by the previous owners, the Gordon Brothers Group.

Natrium is a joint venture between Irish investment group D2 Private Ltd and Cheyne Capital Management in the UK. 

In court yesterday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt heard the inspectors relied on parts of the 1977 Protection of Employment Act and the 2015 Workplace Relations Act.

These include the powers to enter premises and seize documents.

After entering D2 Private’s offices, the inspectors demanded to be furnished with a laptop belonging to an employee and certain books and records. The laptop was taken away, the court heard.

Reject

The documents include correspondence with the liquidators and directors of the company that had operated Clerys, OCS Operations, before Natrium acquired the store.

However, Ms Foley and D2 Private reject that the inspectors have the power to enter their premises and to lawfully take the computer or documents.

In their action against the WRC and the inspectors, they want an order quashing the requirement to hand over materials and a declaration that the use of the investigatory powers is unlawful.

Barrister Breffni Gordon, for Minister for Jobs Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said his client opposes the application. He said the investigation was being conducted to see if a criminal prosecution should be brought arising out of the workers’ collective redundancy.

However, barrister Eoin McCullough, for Ms Foley and D2 Private, said they were never the employers of and had no connection with the Clerys workers.

The documents sought and the materials on the computer are outside the remit of the investigation and there was no valid basis for taking them, said Mr McCullough.

He added that there were concerns about commercially sensitive information on the laptop. It was their case that the inspectors were not entitled to take it, and they want it back.

Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the case to Monday, saying he accepted an undertaking that the laptop would be kept by a solicitor for the department and not be interfered with.

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