A Dublin man who incurred a 1.76 million euro fine whilst hospitalised and in a coma for more than ten-years has been jailed for non-payment of a 2008 M50 charge and subsequent penalties.
Dennis Harding, a thirty-seven-year-old graphic designer formally of Clondalkin County Dublin, incurred the original charge on the ninth of August 2008 on a journey from Clondalkin to Swords.
The Court Case
Giving evidence to Dublin’s Circuit Court, Harding told Mr Justice Thomas Mc Donald.
“It was meant to be a quick trip to Swords and back, but I was in a hurry, so I decided to take the M50 to avoid traffic.”
The Court was told that it was the day after the introduction of an automated number-plate recognition system, before that it was possible to pay the toll in cash at a toll booth.
“I simply wasn’t aware of the new system,” Harding told the court. “But I fully intended to go online when I got home and pay, as you were asked to do.”
Medical evidence was given by Dr James O’Keeffe which outlined Harding’s condition.
“A coma can be caused by one of several conditions. These include traumatic head injury, stroke, brain tumour, drug or alcohol intoxication, or even an underlying illness such as an infection.” He said.
“However in Mr Hardin’s case, we believe the coma was due to a rare allergy to strawberry milkshakes. We believe that Mr Harding suffers from Fragariaisis — an intolerance to strawberries. He also presents as being lactose intolerant.
“When these two conditions occur simultaneously the toxicity in the body goes into over-drive, and the body goes simply shuts down.” The doctor explained. “It is rare but it happens.”
The court was shown CCTV footage of Harding consuming a strawberry milkshake on a garage forecourt in Swords before collapsing and being rushed by ambulance to St James Hospital, where he remained in a comatose state for ten-years.
An accountant for Y-Flow who manages the toll system gave evidence that Harding’s initial charge of €3 has with penalties and costs grown exponentially to the figure claimed by the company of 1.76 million.
The accountant said. “While we appreciate that the defendant may have fully intended to pay the € 3 the fact is he didn’t —and that, unfortunately, is that. There is very little we can do about it.”
“We can’t be letting people away with not paying their charges.” He said. “It sets a very bad example — before long you’d have every Tom, Dick and Harry in the country not paying and that’s no way to run a toll system.” He said as he began to rant.
“We get all sorts of excuses for not paying — from grandmothers not been able to use the internet to ambulances and fire trucks claiming they are on some life-saving mission. Ah, no! We’ve heard every excuse in the book.”
Justice McDonald thanked the accountant for coming to court and praised his diligence.
“We can’t nor should we as a society allow people to flout the law and think they can get away without paying legally imposed charges. Mr Harding should have waited until after paying his toll-charge before having his milkshake.”
Harding who lost his job, home and wife during the ten-years pleaded inability to pay and was sentenced to five-years.
Meanwhile in Ireland News understands that Harding may be facing similar non-payment lawsuits from TV and phone providers. He also has run up a substantial €100,000 late return fee from a Dublin library.