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Saturday 7 December 2019

Woman's Red Bull defamation claim thrown out of court

Winnie O’Donnell (left) with her relative Winnie Reilly
Winnie O’Donnell (left) with her relative Winnie Reilly

A woman's defamation action over her claim she had been accused of shoplifting a can of Red Bull has been dismissed by the High Court.

Winnie O'Donnell, of Tor An Ri Lane, Balgaddy, Lucan, Co Dublin, sued Musgrave Ireland, operators of a Centra Store in Griffeen Way, Lucan.

Her relative, Winnie Reilly, of the same address, also sued for defamation in relation to the same alleged incident in the store on October 6, 2017, but that case was later withdrawn.

The court heard the two went into the shop drinking cans of Red Bull which they had bought elsewhere, and a security man "saluted" as they walked in.

When Ms O'Donnell got to the checkout with items she wanted to buy, she claimed a female assistant manager went over to the security man and had a brief conversation with him.

When the assistant returned, Ms O'Donnell said she asked her: "Did you just accuse me of stealing this Red Bull?"

Ms O'Donnell said the assistant replied "'yeah', and she had a smirk on".

Musgrave denied defamation and said the assistant made a "discreet inquiry" before Ms O'Donnell herself used words claiming she had been accused of stealing.

The two women's cases were initially brought in the Circuit Court last May when they were both dismissed. They appealed to the High Court and this was opposed by Musgrave.

Ms O'Donnell (54) told the High Court she had been a customer of the store for 15 years and had also worked in the retail trade.

Extraordinary

After the exchange with the assistant, she said she spoke to the shop manager.

Ms O'Donnell claimed she met by agreement with the manager at the rear of the store the next day when, she said, she and Ms O'Reilly were offered €500 each because they were "loyal customers".

She was also asked to sign a form "so we can't come back" but she said she would get back to the manager about it. "I walked round the corner and went to a solicitor," she said.

Cross-examined by Remy Farrell SC, Ms O'Donnell agreed this was the first time she had made a claim about a €500 offer.

"This extraordinary account about the €500 is utter nonsense," counsel said. Ms O'Donnell agreed she did not read the court papers outlining her case before signing it.

Asked if she remembered swearing an affidavit verifying her claims, she said: "I remember telling my solicitor the truth."

Pressed by counsel and the judge as to whether the words "shoplift, steal or rob" came out of the assistant's mouth, she agreed it came out of her own mouth.

She disagreed the assistant was being discreet in how she handled the matter. She disagreed the assistant did not have a "sarcastic smirk".

She disagreed she also said to the assistant: "I know my rights, I am a Traveller".

Dismissing the case, Mr Justice O'Connor said there was no evidence she was accused of shoplifting or stealing. There was also no evidence of publication to others which is a requirement of defamation.

Following a brief adjournment, Ms Reilly's case, which the court heard was identical to Ms O'Donnell's, was withdrawn. The judge awarded costs against both women.

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