Moment worlds of 'dine and dash' couple who gorged on meals without paying came crashing down

Ann McDonagh arrested by police
-Credit: (Image: South Wales Police)


They dined on T-bone steaks, feasted on Chinese takeaway and gorged on three-course banquets. Their bills came to more than £1,000 in total.

But Bernard and Ann McDonagh had no intention of paying. After the married couple's final 'dine and dash' exploit, the community clocked on to what was going on.

It was the evening of April 19 that the McDonaghs' simple - yet successful - plan came to the attention of Italian restaurant Bella Ciao. The business had only opened its doors in Swansea earlier that month, Wales Online reports.

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A large group 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, while one woman stayed behind to pay.

She tried and failed to pay the bill twice using a savings account, which was declined. She told staff that she would leave a young member of the party in the restaurant while she dashed to the car to get her other bank card which would be capable of paying the large tab.

However, she did not come back and the youngster then received a phone call and said 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, with other restaurants claiming they too had been stung by two people in the same group.

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 offences of fraud. It transpired that the McDonaghs, from Sandfields, Port Talbot, had played the same trick time and again.

The moment Bernard McDonagh was arrested by police for 'dine and dash' offences
The moment Bernard McDonagh was arrested by police for 'dine and dash' offences

At Bella Ciao, the table was booked under the name of 'Lucy Logan' and the group arrived at the restaurant and duly ordered a three-course meal for everyone in the party. They also failed to pay a bill of £267 at River House in Swansea in August last year, and in the space of just four months this year, as well as the Bella Ciao incident, they left without paying £267.60 for a bill at La Casona in Skewen in February, 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.

Ann McDonagh arrested by police
Bernard McDonagh's picture was posted on social media -Credit:PA

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 at the deceit.

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.

The moment the 'dine and dash' crimes caught up with Ann McDonagh -Credit:South Wales Police
The moment the 'dine and dash' crimes caught up with Ann McDonagh -Credit:South Wales Police

"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 that they could trust customers since nothing like it had happened before. However they are now anxious and constantly keep an eye out.

Bernard McDonagh being led away by police following his arrest
Ann McDonagh's image posted on social media -Credit:PA

"I would say now we are more careful," she said. "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, told WalesOnline 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."

Ann and Bernard McDonagh arriving at Swansea Crown Court
Bernard McDonagh being led away by police following his arrest -Credit:South Wales Police

"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."

It seems the pattern of deceit for the McDonaghs was no more complicated than ordering vast amounts of food and drink for them and the rest of the group they were dining with to enjoy, although not all of it was actually consumed. Sometimes they would order meals and desserts and leave large portions of it uneaten.

Then, upon receiving the bill, an attempt to pay using a card would always fail before staff were asked where the nearest cash point was or if it would be OK if they dashed to get "another card" from a vehicle parked nearby. Their 'dine and dash' crimes were certainly not the first time that the couple have been in trouble with the law, either.

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."

Bernard McDonagh and Ann McDonagh have been jailed
Ann and Bernard McDonagh arriving at Swansea Crown Court -Credit:Claire Hayhurst/PA Wire

"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."

One of the other restaurants hit - La Casona in Skewen - were victims of an almost identical act of behaviour. The restaurant said: "After the meal, four people have already left our restaurant. One lady stayed...to 'pay'. The woman tried to pay with a card which was declined."

"She said she would get another card from the car." They said another member of the party stayed behind while she left, but "10 seconds after", they ran to the car.

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 KC told the couple that 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."