Shop staff asking a customer to show a receipt for goods they have bought in the store does not of itself amount to defamation of character, a judge ruled today when he threw out a €75,000 damages claim.
Laura Byrne, of Abbeywood Crescent, The Oaks, Lucan, Co Dublin, told Judge John O’Connor in the Circuit Civil Court that she felt upset, shocked and absolutely mortified when a member of Ikea’s staff asked her: “Did you pay for that. Where is your receipt?”
The 49-year-old civil servant said she had paid for a trolley full of goods and had been questioned in front of at least a dozen other customers before she left the store.
Ms Byrne, a regular customer of Ikea’s Ballymun store, said staff member Conor Kavanagh had spoken the words aggressively to her and she had been upset for a very long time afterwards.
She told barrister Michael Murray, counsel for Ikea, that she had not seen notices displayed around the store’s 21 check-out tills stating that customers could be asked as a matter of policy to show their receipt after having left a pay area.
Mr Murray, who appeared with Donnough Shaffrey of Shaffrey Solicitors, told the court that Mr Kavanagh denied having spoken aggressively to Ms Byrne and said the store was entitled under the defence of qualified privilege to make a legitimate inquiry of a customer.
Mr Byrne’s husband Bernard told the court his wife was shaking and frightened when she arrived home after the July 2019 incident and he had made her a cup of tea to calm her down. He had spoken to the store’s customer service manager the following day about it.
Ms Byrne said an apology or acknowledgement of what had happened would have made a huge difference to her but none had been forthcoming.
Judge O’Connor, dismissing her €75,000 claim, said asking for a receipt was not defamation. Ms Byrne was an upright and trustworthy lady and there was no reflection whatsoever in relation to her integrity.
When told Ms Byrne held a loyalty card with the store and would be welcome to return as a customer he made no order for costs against her. He said the incident arose out of Ms Byrne having parked the trolley of goods she had checked out while applying for a temporary loyalty card but in no way or by any stretch of the imagination could a request for a receipt be considered defamatory.