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Court hears how "mob of 40 people" prevented repossession of well-known bridal store

A receiver had attempted to repossess McElhinney’s of Athboy on Friday 16 January.

184752405_13e7cb5b74_b Source: William Murphy

A HIGH COURT Judge has referred complaints made against a well known Co Meath bridal retail outlet to the gardaí.

The complaints stem from an attempt made by a bank-appointed receiver to take possession of McElhinney’s of Athboy, the shop in question, and his subsequent removal from that shop.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said very serious allegations of criminality made by receiver Barry Forrest, who was appointed receiver over McElhinney’s by Bank of Ireland, and counterclaims by the store’s general manager Mr Neal Sweeney and businessman Dr Michael Grimes, who says he is in occupation of the store, should be the subject of an investigation “at the highest level” by the gardaí.

Mr Forrest said he and his personnel peaceably entered the store on Friday 16 January last, on foot of an order granting him possession made by the High Court in 2014.

“Thugs, goons and gangsters”

Mr Forrest said he was perfectly entitled to enter the premises, but he and his staff were violently intimidated and threatened before being forced out the following day by a mob of up to 40 people. He claimed the mob gathered at the shop at the request of Mr Sweeney via social media.

The claim is disputed by both Mr Sweeney and Dr Grimes. They say the premises was taken by force by a gang of men described as “thugs, goons and gangsters” who had intimidated and upset staff at the shop.

In a sworn statement Dr Grimes said the “chief thug” used by the bank and receiver in their attempt to take possession is from Northern Ireland and has “allegedly been a member of an illegal organisation”.

John Gleeson SC for Mr Forrest and the bank denied the claims.

The Judge referred the serious complaints made by the parties to the Garda Commissioner after he granted the bank and Mr Forrest an injunction granting them possession of McElhinney’s, Main Street, Athboy.

Injunction

The injunction also requires Mr Sweeney and all other parties who have notice of the order to vacate the premises.

The property has been at the centre of a legal dispute brought by Mr Forrest seeking possession orders in relation to three premises owned by various members of the Sweeney family who are directors of McElhinney Fashions Limited, which has been in liquidation since October.

The receiver was appointed in 2013 after the owners of the properties, who are various members of the Sweeney family, failed to repay €2.3 million owed to Bank of Ireland. The properties, two of which had previously been handed over, were put up as security for the loans.

Representing himself Mr Sweeney opposed the application, and argued Dr Grimes’ company is in possession of the store.

Dr Grimes had claimed that his UK registered company, also called McElhinney’s Fashions Ltd, which had no prior connection with the Irish company of the same name, came into possession of the store last September, and was employing the staff at the store.

He claimed that as he was the one in possession any proceedings to vacate the premises should be taken against him and not Mr Sweeney.

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“Not stand idly by”

In his ruling the Judge said the dispute has been before the court on many occasions. It was adjourned from time to time to accommodate a compromise between the parties. That compromise had not come to pass, the Judge said, adding the matter had effectively come “to the end of the line”.

The court had made an order in “in very clear terms” in 2014 granting the receiver possession of the store, he said. The receiver was entitled to a mandatory order granting them possession.

The court would “not stand idly by” and allow an order it had previously made to be flouted the Judge added.

The Judge rejected Dr Grimes’ claims that he was in possession of the store or that he was the employer. The Judge also refused to join Dr Grimes to the proceedings and dismissed Dr Grimes’ application to restrain Mr Forrest and the Bank from interfering with the property.

The premises the Judge said was to be handed over to the receiver by 5.30pm, on Thursday 4 February.

Following the ruling Mr Sweeney said he would instruct anyone at the premises to leave it. Dr Grimes said he intended appealing the court’s decision.

Comments are disabled as this story concerns an ongoing legal matter

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Aodhan O Faolain

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