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Man who had luggage searched by Dublin Airport police after alleged theft loses €75k defamation claim

The DAA was investigating the theft of a Giorgio Armani watch.

The departure gates at Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport
The departure gates at Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

A DUBLIN SECURITY officer, who turned out his pockets and had his carry-on luggage searched by police on a plane following “an alleged theft” at Dublin airport, has lost his €75,000 claim for defamation of character.

Judge Sinead Ni Chualachain told barrister Shane English, who defended the case on behalf of Dublin Airport Authority, that airport police as agents of the DAA had at all material times behaved responsibly in their investigation into the theft of a Giorgio Armani watch.

An Alan Collins claimed he had been sitting with his partner on a Ryanair plane about to take off for Alicante when he was one of a number of men, who apparently bore a resemblance to each other, spoken to by airport police officers Aisling Sutcliffe and Jessica O’Brien.

He claimed they said to him: 

We wish to speak to you.  We wish to speak to you concerning a theft from Duty-Free.  You were seen on CCTV taking a watch from Duty-Free.

But English told Collins it was impossible for these words to have been spoken to him on the aircraft since there had not been a theft from Duty-Free on that day, 22 April 2017. 

English, who appeared with David Martin of Gore & Grimes solicitors, told Alan Collins in the Circuit Civil Court that the DAA was not only categorically stating Collins was not the thief who snatched the watch from a woman’s check-in basket at security in the airport or from Duty Free, but were also categorically stating he had never been a thief.

Counsel told Collins, of Fortlawn Drive, Blanchardstown, Dublin, that he was wrong in claiming he had been accused of stealing the watch in Duty-Free as there had been no such theft. 

The theft, as shown on CCTV, had taken place from a basket that had passed through a security check.

Counsel said Collins had been invited to step off the plane for the sake of privacy but had refused. He had voluntarily turned out his pockets and had allowed his carry-on bag to be searched at the service area on the plane.

Collins said that when police officers considered he fitted the description they had been given of the thief he had been asked to stand up and show his identification.

He had refused to step off the plane as there was no way he was going to miss his flight. He told them he had done no wrong and that they could search him and his bag on the aircraft.

Police Officers Sutcliffe and O’Brien told the court they had not accused him of stealing a watch from Duty-Free and had not spoken the words they were accused of saying.  They were investigating the theft of a watch stolen from the security line.

In a full defence to the claim, English said Collins had not been requested to be searched on the aircraft in front of other passengers.  He had refused several offers to disembark the aircraft and have the matter discussed in private.

English said the airport police officers concerned were entitled to fully investigate the report of the stolen watch and enjoyed the protection of qualified privilege in doing so.

Judge Ni Chualachain said the defence of qualified privilege had been made out by the defendant. 

Dismissing Collins’ €75,000 claim, the judge said she did not accept the police officers had spoken the words complained of.  She made no order regarding costs.

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Ray Managh

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