NewsCrime Desk

Car ‘clocker’ caught red handed in Sunday World sting

Paul O'Callaghan has a website offering service
Paul O'Callaghan has a website offering service

MEET ‘King of the Clockers’ Paul O’Callaghan, who this week took 70,000 kilometres off the odometer of a 2003 Ford Fiesta for a fee of just €90 – in a sting operation set up by the Sunday World.

Our team travelled to Limerick to meet with the ‘clocker’, who rolled back the miles on our 12-year-old banger while his side-kick revealed they “do” up to 15 cars a week, in flagrant breach of new anti car-clocking laws.

So concerned are authorities here about the fact that 10 per cent of second-hand cars sold to unsuspecting punters are clocked, new laws were enacted in March 2014 making it an offence to interfere with the odometer on a vehicle.

Experts say cars with fake low mileage can be death traps – because buyers don’t know when they need servicing.

Our team meet with Paul O'Callaghan

Prior to the new legislation being enacted, the offence occurred only when a car owner sold on a clocked vehicle without making the buyer aware the odometer had been rolled back.

But the new law specifically made the act of clocking itself a criminal offence, punishable by a €2,500 fine or three months in prison

But O’Callaghan, from Bruff, Co. Limerick – the mastermind behind online clocking phenomenon – showed scant concern for the law when he was approached by our undercover team.

Our man contacted O’Callaghan last week looking to have 70,000 miles wiped off the clock of a 2003 Ford Fiesta van, which we told him had a second-hand engine fitted the year before.

Paul and his sidekick work on vehicle

In a recorded telephone conversation, we asked: “Are you the man who can sort out the broken clock on a car?”

“Well, I’d consider anything, but you have the right man,” he joked.

“I have a 2003 van with 200,000 kilometres on it,” our man told O’Callaghan. “I put a second-hand engine in it a year ago.”

“So you want to get the mileage corresponding to the oul’ timing belt,” he shot back. “I know exactly.”

Our man then put it to O’Callaghan: “I want to get it down to 130,000 if that’s alright!”

“Yeah,” he replied. “Where are ye?”

After a brief conversation in which we told him we were based in west Clare, it was agreed we would meet the following Tuesday.

Pictures showing the odometer on our vehicle taken prior to meeting show the kilometres reading at 174,900.

The odometer before being clocked

We met the career clocker and an associate in the car park to the rear of Finnegan’s pub in east Limerick – 20 minutes later we drove out of the car park with the clock reading just 100,127kms.

The odometer after being clocked

So busy is O’Callaghan, that straight away after he removed the instrument panels with a screwdriver and brought it back to his car, he then went straight to work on a second vehicle while his associate placed the panel back in our car.

Getting into our car, O’Callaghan joked: “They’re kind of bomb-proof these aren’t they?

Asked by one of our undercover team if he could “do” another car after Christmas, O’Callaghan responded: “What kind?”

“It’s an Opel Astra ’08,” our man responded.

“Oh yeah… I’ll do that for you,” he told us.

Seconds later, using a screwdriver, O’Callaghan had the instrument panel popped clear from the dashboard.

“What do you want to put on it?” He asks. “100 is it? There’s 174 on it.”

Ten minutes later O’Callaghan’s sidekick brought the altered instrument panel back to our car and began the process of fitting it back in.

“Do you do many?” our man asked.

“Would I do many? On a regular week I suppose I do about 15.”

Moments later the panel is back in place with its new reading of just over 100,000 kilometres.

Incredibly, up until March 2014, what O’Callaghan and his associate are doing was perfectly legal in this country.

Our man handing over the cash 

However, concerns that upwards of one in 10 second-hand cars sold in this country have been clocked led to the new legislation.

Section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 2014 makes it an offence to interfere or attempt to interfere with the odometer of a mechanically propelled vehicle. 

This provision – which makes interfering with the odometer of a car a criminal offence punishable by a €2,500 fine or three months in prison – came into effect as of 20 March 2014.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport told the Sunday World: “The enforcement of the legislation is a matter for An Garda Síochána. The Department has no role in this and does not have any role in regulating sales of vehicles. 

“As such, the Department does not possess information on numbers either of prosecutions or of odometers tampered with.”

The Gardaí were unable to provide us with statistics as to the number of people prosecuted under the new legislation, while a spokesperson for the Central Statistics Office said figures have yet to be compiled.

John Byrne of Cartell Official   Vehicle Records told the Sunday World that since the introduction of the new legislation the organisation has seen a decline in the number of clocked second-hand cars in the Irish market.

“Based on history checks carried out on we have noticed a decline in the number of domestic vehicles with mileage discrepancies since legislation was enacted criminalising the practice,” he said.

“However, we estimate the overall number of vehicles clocked in the Irish fleet at around 8.5 per cent, which is still a high number and indicates tens of thousands of clocked vehicles are still circulating.”

Last night, despite being told we had recorded our telephone conversations and video-recorded his actions on Tuesday, Paul O’Callaghan denied having clocked our car.

He also denied being the person behind the website despite The Sunday World making contact with him through it.

“That’s not my website and all I did was a repair to the replacement dashboard and restored the original mileage,” he said.