Ben Dunne, an Irish businessman, is kidnapped by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 16, 1981. Former director of his family firm, Dunnes Stores, one of the largest chains of department stores in Ireland, he now owns a chain of fitness centres established by his company Barkisland Developments Limited.
In 1981, he is kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days. He is released unharmed after his friend and fellow businessman, Patrick Gallagher, pays his £1 million ransom.
In 1992, Dunne is arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida. His arrest triggers the end of his leadership of Dunnes Stores, as family turmoil leads to control falling to his sister Margaret Heffernan and the company paying IR£100 million for his share of the business.
Dunne is again embroiled in scandal in the mid-1990s when it emerges he had given large amounts of money to a number of Irish politicians, mainly from the Fianna Fáil party including the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. He also gave money to Michael Lowry of Fine Gael. Justice Brian McCracken, sole member of The McCracken Tribunal which is established by the Irish Government in 1997, finds that Dunne knowingly assisted Lowry in evading his tax obligations. On March 22, 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal concludes of Ben Dunne’s dealings with Michael Lowry that “What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr. Dunne and Mr. Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking.” The report refers to its finding Lowry sought to influence a rent review of a building part-owned by Dunne.
Dunne now owns a chain of fitness centres called Ben Dunne Gyms located in Dublin and Liverpool, which he personally promotes on radio, using recent Irish advertising legislation which allows direct comparisons to named competitors. He was working on a new health club, to open in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, but abandons the project due to complaints from local residents.
In April 2005 Dunne pays £3,000,000 for a 21-acre site in Motspur Park, New Malden (South London), former home of BBC Football Club and other BBC sports facilities. His intent is to apply for planning permission to build a leisure and fitness centre, but he does not do so. Instead, in February 2008, his company Barkisland Developments Limited submits a planning application to the Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council for change of use of the sports ground to a cemetery. The application to change the former BBC Sports Ground into a cemetery is withdrawn on October 3, 2008 after it had become clear that planning permission was likely to be refused. Objections are lodged by many local residents, sports clubs, Sport England and the Mayor of London.