Judge refers allegations over McElhinneys to gardaí

Receiver takes possession after ‘thugs, goons and gangsters’ had previously stopped him

Various complaints made in relation to the receiver’s efforts to take possession of the store have been referred to gardai. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Various complaints made in relation to the receiver’s efforts to take possession of the store have been referred to gardai. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

A High Court judge has referred for investigation by gardaí various allegations and complaints made after a bank-appointed receiver tried but failed earlier this month to take possession of fashion outlet, McElhinneys of Athboy in Co Meath.

Bank of Ireland’s receiver, Barry Forrest of Forrest & Co took possession of the shop on Athboy’s Main Street yesterday after Mr Justice Paul Gilligan directed that the property be handed over to him by 5.30pm.

The “very serious allegations of criminality” made by the receiver, along with counterclaims by the store’s general manager Neal Sweeney and a businessman, Dr Michael Grimes, who alleged he was in lawful occupation of the store, should be investigated “at the highest level” by gardai, the judge added.

Mr Forrest, appointed by Bank of Ireland as receiver over the property, had claimed he and his personnel peaceably entered the store on January 16th on foot of a 2014 High Court order granting him possession.

While perfectly entitled to enter the premises, he and his staff were violently intimidated and threatened before being forced out the following day by a “mob” of up to 40 people who, he alleged, had gathered at the shop following a social media request of Mr Sweeney, the receiver alleged.

Those claims were disputed by Mr Sweeney and Dr Grimes who alleged the premises was taken by force by a gang of men described as “thugs, goons and gangsters” who, it was claimed, intimidated and upset staff at the shop.

‘Chief thug’

In a sworn statement, Dr Grimes said the “chief thug” used by the bank and receiver in their attempt to take possession is from the North 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 complaints to the Garda Commissioner after granting the bank and Mr Forrest injunctions for possession of McElhinneys, Main Street, Athboy and requiring Mr Sweeney and all other parties with notice of the order to vacate the premises.

Mr Forrest previously sought possession orders concerning three premises owned by various members of the Sweeney family who are directors of McElhinney Fashions Limited, in liquidation since October.

  The receiver was appointed in 2013 over failure to repay €2.34 million owed to Bank of Ireland. The properties were put up as security for the loans and two were handed over.

On Thursday, Mr Sweeney, representing himself, opposed the receiver’s injunctions application and argued Dr Grimes’s company is in possession of the store.

Dr Grimes argued his UK-registered company, also called McElhinney’s Fashions Ltd, which had no previous connection with the Irish company of the same name, took possession of the store last September and is employing staff there. Any proceedings to vacate the premises should be against him and not Mr Sweeney, he claimed.

‘End of the line’

In his ruling, Mr Justice Gilligan said the dispute had been adjourned from time to time to accommodate a compromise between the parties but there was no compromise and this was effectively “the end of the line”.

The court had made a clear order in 2014 granting the receiver possession of the store and the receiver was entitled to a mandatory possession order. The court would “not stand idly by” and allow an order previously made be “flouted”.

The judge rejected Dr Grimes’s claims of being in possession of the store or being the employer, refused to join Dr Grimes to the proceedings and dismissed his application to restrain Mr Forrest and the Bank interfering with the property. The premises was to be handed over to the receiver by 5.30pm on Thursday, he directed.

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.