Shirley Flanagan pictured at Limerick Circuit Court - Picture: Press 22
THE owner of a bridal store in Annacotty which was at the centre of a major controversy two years ago has avoided a prison sentence for multiple theft offences.
Shirley Flanagan, aged 36, who has an address at Rathurd, Donoughmore pleaded guilty, earlier this year, to four separate charges relating to offences which happened at Robelle Bridal on four separate dates between January 4, 2015 and May 7, 2015.
All of the thefts related to payments or deposits, totalling €3,200, for wedding dresses from brides-to-be.
During a sentencing hearing, on Friday, Garda Sean O’Regan said an investigation was launched after gardai received a formal complaint from one of the women on May 7, 2015.
In one case, the mother of the bride-to-be paid €1,800 for a David Fielden dress which she never received while another woman paid €500 for a Romantica wedding dress.
Two other women paid deposits for their wedding dresses – one by Kenneth Winston, the other by Justin Alexander.
None of the dresses were ever delivered and the matter came to a head in May 2015 when concerns over the business emerged on social media.
In one case, the accused said she had applied to become the stockist for the company who made the dress, but wasn't appointed. Garda enquiries to the suppliers of the other three dresses revealed that no orders had been placed.
Limerick Circuit Court was told that Ms Flanagan, who has a number of previous fraud convictions, has repaid the customers who paid by cash and that the others were refunded by their credit card providers.
It was accepted by Garda O’Regan that the defendant had not “set out to con people” and was trying “to make a go” of the boutique business.
“Things ran away her, she took risks,” he told Cathal McGreal BL.
Judge Tom O’Donnell was told Ms Flanagan, whose young son died a number of years ago, cooperated with gardai and that none of the weddings were cancelled as a result of her actions.
Mr McGreal said his client, who is originally from Roxboro Road, was in receipt of social welfare when she established the business.
He said she quickly got into financial difficulties after a bank loan failed to materialise. “It was the thing of hopes and dreams gone terribly wrong”.
Mr McGreal submitted the amount of money which Ms Flanagan defrauded from the women was “relatively low” and he said she has already suffered greatly due to the media coverage of the case.
He added she has also been the subject of considerable abuse on social media over the past two years.
Imposing sentence, Judge O’Donnell said he was aware of the coverage the case has attracted: “I don’t think there is a person in Limerick who could have escaped the media coverage,” he said.
The judge noted that great distress must have been caused to the four women commenting that the “hunt for wedding dresses seems to be a major major undertaking”.
Addressing the defendant directly he told her what she did was “very wrong” but said he was satisfied the offences were due to mismanagement rather than for personal gain.
He imposed a 12 month prison sentence, suspending it for twelve months.