Six hour customs ‘stand off’ row ends in court

A GREENCASTLE woman who was involved in a six hour stand off with Customs officials in Buncrana in 2010 pleaded guilty to having a unregistered vehicle.

At a special sitting of Carndonagh District Court on Wednesday, Margaret Davern, 43, from Brooklyn Cottage, Greencastle was fined €2500 after Revenue Officers attempted to seize the vehicle in Lidl car park in Buncrana on 18th May 2010.

The Court heard how, Davern, who admitted owning the Lexus 4x4 jeep, said she could not afford to pay the vehicle registration tax [VRT].

Speaking in Carndonagh Court, Customs office Padraig Ó Laoire said he informed Ms Davern he was going to seize the vehicle and issued her with an immediate €420 penalty which she said he could not afford to pay, although she told him she would get the money later.

Defence barrister Mr Peter Nolan said they would not be in court today if the Customs officials had acted differently. He said be believed the Customs had been “somewhat overhanded”.

He added: “She wants the court to know she would have paid the VRT, but when she left Buncrana she was under the impression she had seven days to pay it but the vehicle was seized the next day at her house.

“She only had the car since April, and she was co-operative the whole time”

However, Mr Ó Laoire retorted: “She was not co-operative at certain points in the day as things developed throughout the day. In fact, we had to withdraw at 2.30pm.”

Mr Nolan claimed the Customs were offered €250 by Ms Davern, her daughter, Rebecca Hanlan and a third passenger in the vehicle, but it was refused and “thrown back in the window”.

Mr Ó Laoire replied: “I certainly did not throw it into the window, I can’t recall how much money she offered.”

Senior Customs officer John Heffuren told the court that the money for the penalty was not “forthcoming” at the end of the stand – off.

He said: “She [Davern] was given every opportunity to pay but she was using delay tactics saying there was someone coming over on the ferry to give her money. That was the only reason we stayed in the car park all day.”

Mr Heffuren said there was over 100 people in car park and he felt he had to make the decision to withdraw as, he felt, the safety of his officers was under threat.

He added: “The events generated a lot of publicity locally and a lot of stuff ended up on Facebook which later had to be removed by the Gardai.”

Mr Nolan asked Judge Paul Kelly to be as “lenient as possible”, but felt that the “context of issue needed to be addressed”.

“This case is not as simple as these Customs officers are making out,” he said.

Judge Kelly fined the mother of two the minimum amount of €2500, giving the mother of two six months to pay the fine.

The prosecution also struck out a charge of obstructing an on-duty Revenue officer.