Inspectors seized files seeking financial details about Clerys

Inspectors claim ‘directors pack’ contained information about employees and action is opposed by Deirdre Foley’s D2 Private

Deirdre Foley, owner of D2 Private is shouted at by former Clery’s worker John Crowe (with water bottle) as she leaves the High Court. D2 Private is part of the Natrium consortium which bought Clerys.   Photograph: Collins

Deirdre Foley, owner of D2 Private is shouted at by former Clery’s worker John Crowe (with water bottle) as she leaves the High Court. D2 Private is part of the Natrium consortium which bought Clerys. Photograph: Collins

 

A ‘directors pack’ containing financial details about Clerys department store and its workforce was one of the reasons why inspectors sought documents at the Dublin offices of property company D2 Private, the High Court has heard.

The inspectors claim, before the takeover by Natrium (a joint venture company) of OCS Operations Ltd (the company that owned and operated Clerys), the directors’ pack was supplied by an employee of D2 Private to Brendan Cooney and Jim Brydie, appointed by Natrium as directors of OCS Operations hours after the Clerys takeover.

Statements

The pack contained detailed information, including financial statements and accounts of OCS Operations and details of Clerys’ workers including their names, dates of birth, years of service, holiday entitlements and total earnings.

The inspectors are conducting an ongoing investigation into the collective redundancies of the store’s 460 workers in June 2015, hours after the OCS group was sold to Natrium by its previous owners, the US Gordon Brothers group.

Natrium is a joint venture made up of Cheyne Capital Management in the UK and a company of Deirdre Foley, owner of D2 Private Ltd.

The inspectors, appointed by the Workplace Relations Commission, are opposing a challenge by D2 and Ms Foley concerning the powers of the inspectors, who seized documents and a laptop computer from D2’s offices in May.

A former Clery’s worker over 43 years, John Crowe (64), from Artane, who is not a party to the case, was in court during Tuesday’s hearing and became emotional when he told Judge Michael Twomey he had been left “with nothing” after the store closed.

In submissions, Shane Murphy SC, for the WRC and inspectors, said the inspectors attended at D2 Private’s offices at Harcourt Terrace as part of their investigation into what has become a complex matter.

The inspectors attended after being made aware of the directors’ pack, counsel said.

Claims

Hours after the Clery’s takeover in the early hours of June 12th 2015, the directors went to the High Court and sought to have OCS Operations, which was loss making, wound up.

A document in the pack also contained a watermark linking it to D2 Private, Mr Murphy said.

The investigators reject claims they have acted outside their remit, counsel said. They have at all times conducted their investigation in a proper and lawful manner and the D2 side was attempting to “unfairly mischaracterise” the investigation, he argued.

In their application, D2 Private and Ms Foley say neither they nor Natrium were ever the employer of the Clery’s workers.

They allege the inspectors were not allowed to take materials from their offices, which they claim include privileged and confidential material, and have acted outside the remit of their investigation.

They also allege the inspectors cannot rely on provisions of the 1977 Protection of Employment Act and the 2015 Workplace Relations Act to justify taking documents from the D2 offices.

They seek various orders and declarations including an order the materials be returned.

They are also seeking damages for alleged misfeasance in public office and breach of privacy.

Comment

The D2 application is supported by Natrium, a notice party to the proceedings.

Shortly before the court rose for the day, Mr Crowe told the judge he worked at Clerys for 43 years before it closed.

After all his years of service, he had to make an appointment so he could get personal items out of his locker four weeks after Clerys closure, he said.

An emotional Mr Crowe said he had been left with “nothing”, adding all he had in his pocket was €6 and he could not afford the bus fare to come to court. He hoped the courts would give out better treatment than “the way I have been treated”, he said.

Outside court, Mr Crowe was vocally critical of Ms Foley who, surrounded by her legal team, left the precinct without comment.

The hearing continues.