Investigators probing Clerys' closure like 'traffic wardens dropping on ropes from helicopters'

Parties involved in the controversial deal say they were never the employers of the store’s now-redundant staff.

By Aodhan O’Faolain & Saurya Cherfi

THE SEIZURE OF ”privileged and confidential information” from the offices of a Dublin property company by inspectors conducting an ongoing criminal investigation into the collective redundancies at Clerys Department Store was “wholly unlawful”, the High Court has heard.

Last May, inspectors appointed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) entered the premises of D2 Private, a company linked to the take over of the department store, at Harcourt Terrace, Dublin, and removed items including a laptop computer and a number of documents, including invoices.

The investigation arose after 460 workers lost their jobs on 12 June, 2015, hours after Clerys was sold to Natrium by its previous owners, the US Gordon Brothers group. Natrium is a joint venture made up of Cheyne Capital Management in the UK and a company of Deirdre Foley, owner of D2.

As a result Foley and D2 have brought a High Court challenge against the inspectors and the WRC claiming they were not entitled to enter the office and take the materials.

They claim the inspectors should only take documents and materials relevant to their investigation and there was no constitutional basis for the inspectors’ actions.

13/6/2015. Clerys Shop Sold
Source: Sam Boal/

‘Wholly unlawful’

In his submissions to the court today, Remy Farrell, for Foley and D2. said the seizure of the documents and a laptop computer by the inspectors was not only “wholly unlawful” but also breached his client’s privacy.

Materials on the computer, counsel said, were privileged and highly confidential. Counsel said while the computer had been returned, a forensic copy of all the data on the machine had been retained by the inspectors.

During his submissions, counsel described the powers which the inspectors purported to act under when they entered and seized the documents as being draconian. He compared the actions as being akin to “traffic wardens dropping on ropes from helicopters.”

Foley and D2 say they were never the employers of the Clerys workers, and a company called OCS Operations was at all times the employer. They claim the decision to make the workers redundant was made independently of D2 and Foley.

13/6/2015. Clerys Shop Sold
Source: Sam Boal/

Acting outside their powers

Counsel said inspector’s belief they could enter the premises of a company that was not the employer of the Clerys workers and demand the production of materials merely because it was a place where persons are employed is not something they are lawfully entitled to do.

The inspectors, counsel said, have acted outside of their powers. Counsel also rejected claims that his client’s challenge was aimed at halting the overall investigation into the collective redundancies.

He also rejected claims a directors pack which has been linked to D2 could be catergorised as the employment records of the Clerys workers.

Farrell was replying to submissions made on behalf of the WRC and the inspectors, who argue the challenge should be dismissed.

They say the inspectors’ decision to enter D2′s offices was a legitimate one made in the public interest. The inspectors say they “acted with all reasonableness” during “the exercise of a statutory power” and did not breach the privacy rights of D2 and Foley.

Following the conclusion of submissions, on what was the fifth day of the hearing, Justice Michael Twomey reserved his decision. The judge said he would give judgment in due course.