The owner of a Buncrana Pizza Parlour said he feared he was going to be robbed when plain clothed inspectors from the Department of Social Protection arrived at his restaurant on a Saturday evening to carry out a surprise inspection.
Buncrana District Court heard on Tuesday how inspectors, accompanied by officials from the Revenue Commissioners, visited Euro Pizza at St. Mary’s Road on the evening of February 12 of this year.
There were no customers present in the shop at that time and a number of young female employees were behind the counter. The officials asked to speak with the owner and were directed to Mark Harrigan (42) who confirmed he was the proprietor of the premises.
The court heard that Harrigan was initially co-operative with the officers but when he was asked to hand over a print out from the cash register to provide a “snap-shot” of the business he asked the inspectors to come back on Monday.
The inspectors asked to interview the staff who were on the premises - but Harrigan refused to allow them to do so. The court was told that the pizza shop owner was informed of his legal obligation to co-operate with the inspectors and was shown ID, however he replied: “You probably downloaded that from the internet”. He then told officers he was neither the manager nor the owner and that his wife held both role.
Harrigan told the court he had felt “very threatened” when the inspectors had arrived and that is why he had asked them to leave. He handed in copies of newspaper reports of robberies in the area to the court adding that he had become hugely uncomfortable when he had been asked to open his till.
Harrigan said he had phoned the Gardai after the men had left who told him they had not been aware of any inspections in the area.
When inspectors came back two weeks later they found that all the records relating to Europizza were in order and that there were no irregularities.
“My difficulties started the minute they said about the till. I just wanted them out of the shop. I felt threatened. I didn’t know who they are and I thought they were going to rob me.”
Defence solicitor Ciaran MacLochlainn told the court that his client should have co-operated however he felt “that a threat was being made against him or that may have been a victim of a scam.”
Mr MacLochlainn went to say his client’s business has suffered greatly since the economic downturn and that Harrigan had been forced to supplement his income with some driving work.
He added that Harrigan was currently in arrears of rent, rates and electricity.
“You and I may not have reacted in the same way my client did but he felt threatened by these men arriving on his premises on a Saturday night. He panicked because he felt under pressure.”
One of the inspectors from the Department of Social Protection was present in court and told Judge Paul Kelly that he had outlined the reason for his visit to Harrigan and had presented him with the relevant ID, which he presented to the court.
Judge Kelly told Harrigan: “Even in the times we live in, where fraud and scams are rampant, it would be hard to believe that someone of this (the inspector’s) demeanour could be mistaken for someone who was going to break into Mr Harrigan’s business.
“He was not wearing a balaclava.
“You reaction on the night could be described, charitably, as irrational.”
Harrigan was fined 250 euro.