Irish Times Ltd, Shop Direct prosecuted for marketing offences

Companies to contribute to Pieta House suicide-prevention charity in lieu of conviction

The judge said if Shop Direct paid €5,000 to Pieta House suicide prevention charity he would strike out the charge. Regarding The Irish Times Ltd, he told the company to pay €3,000 to Pieta House. Photograph: The Irish Times

Two companies have been ordered to pay sums of money to charity in lieu of convictions after they were prosecuted for email marketing offences.

The Irish Times Ltd and the company behind online retailer Littlewoods were prosecuted by the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) for offences under the 2011 e-privacy regulations that prohibit the sending of unsolicited marketing by electronic means.

Shop Direct Ltd (Littlewoods Ireland) pleaded guilty to a single charge of sending unsolicited email. Three other charges against the company were struck out.

The Irish Times Ltd pleaded guilty to a single charge and six others were struck out.


Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney told Dublin District Court the complaint against Shop Direct was from a woman who understood she had opted out of marketing material in 2014, but continued to receive it. The complaint was resolved in December 2014 and the company was issued with a warning.

But the woman started to receive emails again in 2015 and made a further complaint to the DPC.

Barrister Shelley Horan for Shop Direct said it had treated the issue as being of the utmost importance and urgency. It offered an "unequivocal apology" to the customer concerned. The company was also "highly respected" in the industry and had no previous convictions of any kind.

Retail efforts

The complaint against The Irish Times Ltd was from a man who had subscribed to the newspaper’s Get Swimming newsletter in 2015. He had subsequently tried unsuccessfully on numerous occasions to unsubscribe from it.

Eoghan Cole, instructed by Hayes Solicitors, suggested the marketing material from The Irish Times Ltd "could be fairly described as not amounting to aggressive retail efforts". Mr Cole said the company was disappointed the matter was before the court, but it accepted from the customer's point of view that it had fallen short of the required standard.

In both cases before the court, Mr Delaney confirmed the companies had co-operated fully with his investigations.

Judge John O’Neill said if Shop Direct paid €5,000 to the Pieta House suicide prevention charity by May 23rd he would strike out the charge.

In the case of The Irish Times Ltd, he told the company to pay €3,000 to Pieta House by the same date.

Mr Delaney told the court the essential message in all such cases was that there must be “robust testing” of the systems behind marketing databases.

The Irish Times confirmed the breach had occurred due to human error. It said it had resolved the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

Managing director of The Irish Times Ltd Liam Kavanagh said : "Email is an increasing method of communicating with our customers and we are committed to the highest standards regarding procedures in this area. We have taken the necessary steps to ensure this error does not recur."