Three schoolchildren, who sued a major Dublin store for a total of €225,000 damages for defamation of character, have been awarded €14,000 between them in the Circuit Civil Court.
The boy and two girls, all cousins , had claimed they had been loudly accused by a member of staff in an Iceland store, of stealing and opening a packet of biscuits.
The 13-year-old boy told the President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, that he and his two cousins, a 14-year-old girl and her younger sister, had been shopping in the Iceland supermarket in Finglas, Dublin, with his aunt on 23rd August 2017.
All three sued Iceland through the mother of the two girls.
The teenage boy told the court his aunt had asked the three of them to go and pick something out for their school lunches. They had found a multipack of ‘Happy Hippo’ biscuits with the outside packaging ripped open.
He told his barrister, Tim Sheehan, that he and his cousins had thought the Happy Hippo biscuits may have been on sale for a reduced price because of the tear in the outer package. He said the biscuits inside the pack had been individually wrapped and had not been opened.
The said he had picked up the biscuits to bring back to his aunt when he noticed that an employee of the store had started to follow him and his cousins at a brisk pace.
He said the man was an employee of Iceland and had begun to shout at them that they were stealing and that they could not just open the packet and eat what they wanted. The boy said his two cousins had become very upset.
He told Mr Sheehan that he had felt very embarrassed as the man had been shouting loudly and he had been worried other shoppers in the store were going to overhear him. The boy said he had put down the packet as he walked along and returned to where his aunt was.
He said the employee had then talked to his aunt and was still raising his voice telling her the children had opened the packet even though it had not been paid for.
The older sister told the court they had only wanted to bring the packet back to her mother to ask if the product had been reduced in price due to the tear in the outer packet.
Judge Groarke awarded the older girl €5,000 against Iceland Ltd, and €4,500 each for the boy and younger girl together with Circuit Court costs.
Defamation claims cannot be taken in the District Court and must be heard in the Circuit Court or the High Court. The maximum amount that can be awarded by the Circuit Court for defamation is €75,000 in each case and, although the maximum jurisdiction is claimed in such cases, is not specifically the award expected by the claimant.