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'Theft' slander of schoolgirls costs store €70k

A MISTAKEN accusation of theft against a group of six "browsing" schoolgirls has cost a Dublin store €70,000 in damages and legal costs for slander and false imprisonment.

Circuit Court President, Mr Justice Matthew Deery, approved a €7,500 settlement offer by Claire's Accessories UK Limited, to 17-year-old mother-of-one Jacqueline O'Reilly.

Barrister David Conlan Smyth told the Circuit Civil Court it was the sixth case he had settled over a single incident that had taken place in the company's Ilac Centre store in Dublin, in October 2008.


He said all of the cases against Claire's Accessories UK, whose registered office is in The Outlet Centre, Fair Hill, Killarney, Co Kerry, had settled for €7,500 each with costs.

Legal costs for such cases in the Circuit Civil Court average between €4,000 and €5,000 each.

Conlan Smyth said Ms O'Reilly, of St Theresa's Gardens, Donore Avenue, Dublin, had been browsing in the Ilac Centre store, which specialises in jewellery and accessories, with five of her friends when all of them had been accused of having stolen two pairs of earrings.

He told Judge Deery it appeared that a member of staff had approached the group and said: "Girls, where are the earrings? They were there before you came in and they could not have vanished."

Counsel, who has appeared with Blake Horrigan Solicitors for all of the girls, said they had denied having any knowledge of any such earrings but had been asked to publicly empty their pockets and shake out their sleeves.

Mr Smyth said the staff member, having found nothing, had stated: "One of you have them because they were there before you came in so you can put two and two together."

He said Ms O'Reilly, and her friends, had been falsely imprisoned for the time they had been forced to remain in the shop and slandered by the publicly stated remarks.


Before leaving, the 12 and 13-year-olds had been told they would be barred from the shop if they returned in a group.

"Upset and humiliated, slandered and imprisoned, the infant plaintiff was escorted by a male member of security out of the shop to the entrance of the Ilac Centre," Mr Conlan Smyth said.

He said the court, at earlier hearings, had approved €7,500 settlements in all of the other cases. Judge Deery, when told by Mr Conlan Smyth that Ms O'Reilly now had a small child herself and would be 18 in January next, directed that the €7,500 be paid directly to her.