Judge John O’Connor said a store check-out operator asking someone whether they had paid for a bag did not give rise to a defamation action, nor did becoming upset at such a question justify a claim.
Karina Fowler, a carer of Robert Emmet Close, Dublin 8, said she had become embarrassed, shocked and upset when she had been asked at the M&S check-out in the Jervis Shopping Centre if she could prove she had paid for the bag.
When cross-examined by Elizabeth Jane Walsh, counsel for M&S, she denied having started screaming and shouting when the till operator had asked whether she should scan the bag. She said she had been the only one in the queue to have been asked.
Ms Fowler said she was a regular shopper in M&S and when she had told the attendant she had brought the bag with her, she had been told: “Prove it. You will have to produce a receipt.”
She said she had started to cry, had become very upset and asked for the manager.
She claimed that the manager told her she should not have been singled out.
M&S check-out operator Stephanie McDermott said she had asked Ms Fowler: “Will I take for the bag?” and she had replied “No.”
She had then asked her whether she had a receipt and, when Ms Fowler replied “No”, Ms McDermott had said “OK”.
“The bag was a brand new bag and that’s why I asked her,” Ms McDermott said. “I would normally ask a customer and scan new bags.”
Ms McDermott said she had been dealing with her next customer when Ms Fowler had asked for the manager.
A supervisor arrived and Ms Fowler told her she had been accused.
She said it was store policy to scan every bag but she would not do so when it was obvious the bag was an old one. She denied having told Ms Fowler to prove that the bag was hers.
Ms Walsh, who appeared with Miley and Miley Solicitors for M&S, told the court that within a week of the incident the store had received a solicitor’s letter saying Ms Fowler had been defamed.
Dismissing Ms Fowler’s case, Judge O’Connor said her pleadings had also included a claim that she had been falsely imprisoned and there had been no evidence of that.
“Ms Fowler is a sensitive woman and I accept she became upset,” Judge O’Connor said. “But the fact she was upset doesn’t give rise to a defamation action.”
Judge O’Connor made no order for costs in the Circuit Civil Court, but he warned that, in future claims where there was no evidence of defamation, he would award costs against the plaintiff.