They gorged on meals worth hundreds of pounds and never paid - but they're paying now

Serial "dine and dash" offender Ann McDonagh being arrested
-Credit: (Image: South Wales Police)

They loved to dine out, chowing down on T-bone steaks, Chinese takeaways and gorging on three-course banquets.

But what they didn't love was paying for their meals so Bernard and Ann McDonagh just walked away when the time came for the bill. By the time the married couple committed their final 'dine and dash', they owed over £1,000 to various restaurants and the community was on to them.

On the evening of April 19 the McDonaghs' simple - yet successful - plan came to a sudden end.

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Italian restaurant Bella Ciao had only opened its doors in Swansea earlier that month, reports WalesOnline, when a large group of diners amassed a bill of £329 after going "full-on with their order". When it came to paying the bill members of the group left the restaurant, with one woman staying behind to pay.

She tried and failed to pay twice using a savings account, which was declined and then told staff she would leave a young member of the party in the restaurant while she went to the car to get her other bank card. But she never returned, and the child then received a phone call, before saying words to the effect of "oh no! I'll be there now" before running off.

Sharing an image and an appeal for information on social media, Bella Ciao set off a chain of events which would see the local community come forward and help identify those involved.

CCTV of Bernard McDonagh, 41, and his wife Ann McDonagh, 39, inside Bella Ciao went viral, and just over a month later they faced a judge at Swansea Crown Court to be sentenced for fraud. The McDonaghs, from Sandfields, Port Talbot, had played the same trick time and again.

At Bella Ciao, the table was booked under the name of 'Lucy Logan' when the group arrived at the restaurant and ordered a three-course meal for everyone in the party. They had also failed to pay a bill of £267 at River House in Swansea in August last year, as well as they leaving without paying £267.60 at La Casona in Skewen in February 2024, while a bill of £196 also went unpaid at Isabella's in Porthcawl in March.

In January, a Chinese takeaway with a total cost of £99.40 was ordered from Golden Fortune in Port Talbot and delivered to the couple's address. After the food was delivered, the door was closed abruptly in the delivery driver's face and attempts to gain payment and get them to reopen the door were ignored.

The five incidents combined to a total of more than £1,150 in unpaid food and drink bills. Speaking to WalesOnline following the hearing, business owners described their shock and upset.

Manager at Las Casona, Kinga Szczesniak, said she couldn't believe such "innocent looking" customers could do something like this. She said: "All the staff I spoke to said they never would have thought they would run away. They seemed super nice, they had an old man with a walking stick so they looked absolutely innocent.

"When they went to pay they went out of the restaurant area so just two people came to pay. That's when I knew they were going to run. A lady tried her card and it was declined, she said she was going to go to her car to get another card. I asked the [other person] if they could stay [to make sure she came back to pay] then five seconds later they ran after her. The bill came to around £270 - it was huge."

Before the incident, which happened on February 24, she said staff at the restaurant felt they could trust customers as nothing like it had happened before.

Kinga said: "I would say now we are more careful. We are constantly looking at customers to make sure they pay. Around a week later we were even too scared to let customers go outside to have a drink or a cigarette because we weren't sure if they would come back. That was normal before."

A worker at Golden Fortune, named Shirley, said the impact on the business was "awful", with it happening at a time when so many are grappling with the cost-of-living crisis. She said: "It's awful. It's already hard because everything is so expensive. It's a struggle for everyone, not just our business.

"It means the business was already worse off [financially] and this incident meant we didn't have as much money left to pay our bills." She added: "I'm happy they are going to jail. I hope that everyone will see this and will think before they go and do bad things. We don't want this to happen to any other businesses again."

Their 'dine and dash' crimes were certainly not the first time that the couple have been in trouble with the law.

Bernard McDonagh has 27 previous convictions for 40 offences including driving matters, affray, public disorder, violence, criminal damage, and possession of controlled drugs. He has 23 different aliases on the police national computer, and eight different dates of birth recorded.

Ann McDonagh, meanwhile, has 18 previous convictions for 36 offences including 24 thefts and shoplifting matters as well as the fraudulent use of a registration mark, obstructing a police officer, and fraud by false representation. The 39-year-old has 20 different aliases recorded on the police national computer along with 10 different dates of birth.

After being left more than £300 out of pocket in April, Bella Ciao posted on social media: "To the family who left the restaurant this evening without paying their £329 bill - shame on you!! We had no way of contacting you as the number you used to make the reservation was fake.

"To do this to anyone is disgusting but to do this to a newly open restaurant is even worse!" The restaurant's manager, Tyrone Reese, told the Mirror after the incident: "They were ordering the most expensive things on the menu, like T-bone steaks and the like. My wife said 'something's not right'. They went full-on with their order but they were also sending plates back half empty."

On Wednesday (May 29), the couple appeared at Swansea Crown Court having both previously pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud. Ann McDonagh had also previously pleaded guilty to three counts of theft by shoplifting. Bernard McDonagh was handed a jail term of eight months, while Ann McDonagh was given a sentence of 12 months imprisonment.

Addressing the couple in court, Judge Paul Thomas KC said: "Over a period of around eight months you two set up a deliberate course of sustained dishonesty. You would have food and drinks served to you to the value of hundreds of pounds and then cynically and brazenly leave without paying."

"You would order the most expensive items on the menu in full knowledge that you would not pay for them. You, Ann McDonagh, pretended that your card was not working, going off on the pretence that you were going to get cash."

With justice finally having caught up with them, the McDonaghs were ordered to pay compensation totalling £2,185 - a combination of the restaurant bills they didn't pay for and the value of the items stolen in separate incidents by Ann McDonagh - within seven days. Sending them to prison, Judge Thomas told the couple their dining spree was not carried out with the intention of feeding their family and the group they were eating with, but rather it was a case of "criminality for criminality's sake", adding: "You both got a buzz on what you were able get away with."

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