APPROVED JUDGMENT (contd… Pages 56 to 60 of 75)
245. The defendant’s response is that he has not committed any offence or harassed anybody, not least the claimants, if they have regard to the terms of this blog and to the information which is available, for example, in the OFT report. He repeated his observation, as he did in the other action, that it is not permissible to wipe two years from his CV and, in effect, prevent him from sharing his experiences with others, provided he does not do so unlawfully. The submission of Miss Omar was that, yet again, it is not good enough simply to complain about negative comments which may be annoying or upsetting to the reader. The clear line has to be crossed and, it was submitted, once again, as with this blog, the case does not get anywhere near to crossing that threshold.
246. The same submissions were made in relation to allegation (13), another blog of 13th October 2012 entitled, “BMV property companies. How you know who you are dealing with, part 2. Companies House search.” The complaint is again the ‘negative commentary generally’, the tagging and it is also alleged that:
“Personal details are provided, such as the claimants’ full names, directorships and companies that they are connected with. That is to be found in the tagged section. Furthermore, allegations and suggestion of the public being misled by exaggerated claims and, furthermore, acting in a way that the claimants ought to be ashamed of.”
247. So far as the defendant is concerned, it is true that he had undertaken a search for a list of directors at Companies House, a matter of public record which he is entitled to do, and that he had put that in his blog, which he is entitled to do, and that it was in the context of the objective of the blog, which, again, was a rational aim which he was entitled to undertake, that he did not overstep any mark and that whereas he did write, as appears in the terms of the blog, for example:
“Another tell-tale sign to look out for are exaggerated claims of length appears to have been in business.”
He directly relates that to the history of Tom Craven, a related company from 1972 which, according to a search at Companies House shows was incorporated on 18th August 2011. Clearly, the object of that was to make a negative comment and inference about Tom Craven and to link that to the claimants and he also stated:
“Gateway Homes UK Limited website only has its staff and franchisees on, not any directors. Are they ashamed of or something?”
In short, the reference to, “Are they ashamed of or something” has to be read in context and even if offence is taken at this, there is nothing inherently within this blog which crosses the line as Miss Omar submitted. The defendant posed a question which did not cross the line. He did not accuse the claimants of having done something for which they should be ashamed nor did he write anything which constituted harassment.
248. Allegation (14) is a blog dated 15th October 2012 entitled, “Is Tom Craven really Malcolm Statman?” Again, the claimants complain of the negative commentary, the tagging and they conclude as follows under, “Substance of the claimants’ allegations”:
“The defendant makes allegations of the second claimant being aggressive, unpleasant, unprofessional and sets out a tirade of profanities allegedly spoken by the second claimant. There are also allegations of the second claimant’s company syphoning off purchases and general unethical and conflicting business behaviour.”
249. So far as that latter reference is concerned, the blog states in the third paragraph:
“I guess the head office staff get paid the same but the franchisees get cut out of the loop. It was certainly never announced within the franchise network when I was there that the directors had set up a little offshoot to potentially syphon off purchases. As I said, it is a murky BMV world. There is lots more to cover in the coming weeks, months and probably years!”
By that, I understood that, in one part of his evidence, the defendant raised a concern as to whether or not the deals with which he had been involved as franchisee never moved forward because, in fact, another company which he considered may have been related to the claimants’ companies, had stepped in, thereby depriving him of the ability to receive his transaction fee but not, in fact, affecting the claimants’ businesses generally. Whether or not there was any truth in that allegation is a matter to be dealt with if it arises should the defendant bring a claim. But this court is concerned with the question as to whether or not the civil remedy in respect of harassment is available to the claimants.
250. The other difficulty with the claimants’ position is that the tirade of profanities quoted by the defendant have in fact been taken verbatim from the transcript and audio recording and that it is plain that, whether it was out of character or whatever, the fact remains that the second claimant did use those words and it is, in my judgment, disingenuous of the claimants to attempt to cast doubt on this particular quotation by the defendant by saying “allegedly spoken” when they both knew full well that those words were spoken. This particular allegation is, in my judgment, incapable of crossing the threshold for the reasons and findings of fact which I have given.
251. Allegation (15) is dated 23rd October 2010, entitled, “A public apology to Mr Haywood and the article ‘Quick house sale not all it seemed’ on www.express.co.uk.” The complaint here is that this was an article published by the Express newspaper on 11th September 2011 but that the defendant chose to post a comment on 23rd October 2012 referring to the claimants personally, stating that he wanted to apologise to Mr Haywood for the stress and anxiety caused at the time and inferring that the companies did not act in good faith.
252. The defendant was questioned about this in cross-examination and gave his explanation, which was that he was responding to the comments posted in that article and also to the fact that he was the named franchisee who dealt with the complainant in question, that is Mr Haywood, and that he was merely seeking, as he saw it, to correct the record and that his comments are innocuous. Miss Omar submitted that this too is an allegation that simply comes nowhere near to crossing or even approaching the threshold which would need to be established.
253. Allegation (17) is dated 23rd October 2012. It is a comment entitled, “Gateway Homes franchise left me a wreck, article on www.mirror.co.uk.” The complaint here is that the Daily Mirror newspaper article concerning Tony Barlow was published originally on 27th April 2011, yet the defendant chose at this stage to post his comment and that within that comment he states that the claimants’ companies were desperately trying to gag him and again raises suggestions that the claimants’ businesses are dishonest and mislead the public.
254. The defendant’s position is that he was perfectly entitled to post his comment, which is fair comment and relevant, given the terms of the article, and that, in these circumstances, when viewed in this context, the nature of his comments simply does not suggest or show that there was any harassment within the meaning of the Act. That was the submission made by Miss Omar and, again, the question to be posed is whether or not those comments in that context and, indeed, taking the wider context of the fact that the parties were heavily embroiled in litigation already, constitutes harassment within the meaning of the Act. It was submitted on behalf of the defendant that the answer is clearly in the negative.
255. Allegation (18) is also dated 23rd October 2012 and the complaint is that there was a post on the defendant’s Twitter pages which simply contained a tweet of a link to the post blog, “Home of my new personal blog.” It was not clear from Mr Richardson’s submissions as I understood them what the particular complaint here was in relation to the establishment of the statutory cause of action and, in particular, the justification for there being a permanent injunction. Even if the defendant had knowledge as to how to construct a link so as to refresh or regenerate an existing document, for example in the public domain, that act of itself would be lawful and it would not follow that the defendant can be found to have committed this cause of action in these circumstances.
256. Again, the defendant reiterated in relation to each of these allegations that he was not engaged in any way on any personal vendetta against the claimants but he went further to say that he is now engaged on a crusade for consumers. It is unnecessary for me to make a finding in favour of the defendant on that latter assertion. However, as to the former, it was not established that the comments were motivated by a personal vendetta. The content of the documents, even viewed cumulatively (and objectively) does not establish harassment, as defined earlier.
257. Allegation (19) is another blog post, 24th October 2012, entitled, “Trusting the wrong people in the Gateway Homes network”. The complaint is that the defendant has yet again tagged the claimants’ companies to allow for it to come up simultaneously with the search web. The complaint is that the defendant states he was stupid and gullible to trust them and to expose private emails exchanged with Oliver Barber.
258. The defendant’s contention is that he has done nothing either to breach any confidence or to cause harassment in these circumstances. Miss Omar made the same submissions to those before.
259. Allegation (20) is again dated 24th October 2012 on Stuartsblog.org, “How to remove targeted advertising.” The complaint is that the defendant has tagged and inserted screenshot copies of Express newspaper articles so that when this article comes up in a search engine, this is linked with the defendant’s blog and vice-versa. The defendant acknowledged that he has used his skills in search engine techniques and that all he is seeking to do is increase his rankings, since, he says, there is nothing harmful or illegal about that, the information in truth about which the complainants complain is in the public domain and is the responsibility of the Express newspaper and that he cannot be said to have caused harassment in these circumstances simply by this particular action.
260. Allegation (21) is also dated 24th October 2012, which is a post on the defendant’s twitter page, again a tweet of the link to the blog post, “How to remove targeted advertising.” The same arguments were applied to that by both sides and also allegation (22), again same date, a post on the defendant’s twitter page.
261. Allegation (23) is dated 26th October 2012 and concerns merely the act of registering a website, www.BMVpropertywatch.co.uk. The complaint is that the defendant purchased this website, which he confirmed in his witness statement of 8th November 2012, for the intended purpose of using it to attack and harass the claimants thereafter. The complaint is that this website would be used to describe how according to the defendant the BMV property sector operates and to cause harm the claimants and their businesses. It was submitted on behalf of the claimants that this is yet another example of the defendant ‘needling’, as Mr Nick Statman put it, the claimants with no purpose other than to cause them harm. Miss Omar argued, rightly, that the mere act complained of did not come any where near the threshold.
262. Allegation (24) is another allegation which emerges from the defendant’s witness statement of 8th November 2012 at paragraph 8 (b) and (c). The complaint here is that the defendant had contacted various authorities and made complaints about them. The sting in the tail, as Mr Nick Statman indicated, is not the fact that a complaint was made but that a complaint was made without foundation and maliciously. It was in this context that Mr Richardson drew particular attention to the observations (see earlier) of Lord Sumption in Hayes v Willoughby to show that the defendant’s attitude, and personality, was that of an irrational and disgruntled ex-franchisee.
263. It was in this context that the defendant was cross-examined in relation to each complaint to the regulatory bodies identified at paragraph 8(b) and (c). The defendant appeared to have a poor memory of a number of these complaints but he was not willing to deny that he made them. When pressed as to the precise terms of the complaints, he professed not to recall, save for some vague recollection that the complaints would have been of the kind that was in the public domain and that his concern was that the claimants had operated practices which the OFT had found were undesirable.
264. However, all that said, the reality of the matter is that the defendant sent a single online complaint to the identified bodies. The complaints were not acknowledged. He did not repeat them let alone embark upon a campaign against the claimants to (any one of) those bodies. I accept that the defendant had no present recollection of the precise terms of the complaints. He did not pursue the matter. He was not desirous of pursuing a complaint for the sake of it. Nothing more was heard of from those bodies, save that the Citizens Advice Bureau referred his reference to the Advertising Standards Authority. I reject the submission that the defendant was engaged in an irrational or vendetta like campaign.
265. As for those parties said to be contacted ‘imminently’ (at paragraph 8 (c)) he had no recollection of making any such reference either to his MP, to the Law Society, to the RICS or, as I understood him, to the OFT.
266. In my judgment, this is not a case of somebody being fixated and engaged in an irrational campaign. It was submitted by Miss Omar that, in any event, the conduct complained of at paragraph 8 of the witness statement was permissible behaviour and came nowhere near the boundary of unacceptable conduct within the meaning of the Act. The issue was, in light of the claimants’ own testimony, whether or not there was reason for the defendant to believe that there was some substance in fact in his complaint.
267. I am not satisfied in relation to this allegation that the claimants have made out the factual basis necessary to support a finding that allegation (24) constituted harassment, let alone whether that of itself, which took place two years ago, is sufficient now to justify a permanent injunction.
268. The final allegation (25), is, it appeared from the claimants’ testimony, arguably the most serious of the allegations. It is dated March 2013. The allegation is that the defendant made unfounded and malicious complaints of ‘perjury’ to the police. This allegation arises out of the unlawful arrest of the defendant which he believed was procured by the claimants and their lawyers who gave incorrect information about him to the police, who acted on that information. The defendant, acting in person, complained that the claimants and their lawyers had committed perjury when, in fact, the police investigation found no evidence of perjury (within Miss Slater’s third affidavit). The fact of that complaint was made known to Miss Slater in June 2013. The claimants allege that the complaint was unfounded and constituted as act of harassment.
269. However, the defendant’s real complaint, it appears, was that the claimants had wrongfully procured his arrest though he used the incorrect legal term of ‘perjury’.
270. The final allegation is:
“The claimants’ solicitor was advised on 12th June 2013 by Detective Sergeant Mason of Spalding police station in Lincolnshire that the defendant had contacted the police in or around March 2013 and alleged that the claimants had committed perjury within the course of the proceedings and had asked the police to investigate this. The police investigated this and no further action was taken.”
271. Mr Richardson in opening the case drew attention to this allegation for the purpose of showing that the defendant was prone to be irrational, he was prone to see conspiracies where none existed and willing to implicate solicitors and counsel as well as the claimants.
272. The defendant explained in his evidence that he did make a complaint at the time about Mr Richardson and Miss Slater for he believed that they were directly involved in the procurement of his arrest at 1.30am, 19th November 2012 and that he wanted to ascertain the facts. All he was aware of was that both lawyers had been involved in some way in telephone communications with the police at the station from which his arrest was sanctioned. Mr Richardson indicated to the court that he did have a recollection, in fact, of dialling the number of the police station and then handing the telephone to Miss Slater who then took over the call. It was not clear whether there was complete agreement between Mr Richardson and Miss Slater on that but it is irrelevant. The point is that the defendant was correct in believing that both lawyers had been ‘involved’ in the telephone call to the police and that thereafter the police (wrongfully) arrested him. The defendant wrongly assumed that both counsel and solicitor had provided to the police inaccurate information for the purpose of having him arrested.
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Mr Nicholas Charles Statman aka Nick teflon-coat Statman
Mr Malcolm Robert Statman aka Malcolm bully-boy Statman
Gateway Homes Nationwide Franchise Ltd / Whitehall Franchise Ltd (in liquidation from August 2014)
Gateway Homes UK Ltd
(Other trading companies / names in operation –
CXI 92 LIMITED
KINGSBRIDGE AND CARTER LTD
SPEEDY PROPERTIES LTD
TOM CRAVEN LIMITED
ROBERT CHARLES PROPERTY LIMITED
GATEWAY HOMES RENTALS UK LIMITED
GATEWAY HOLDINGS (UK) LIMITED
GATEWAY HOMES RENTALS UK LIMITED
PROP BUY LTD
ROOST UK LIMITED)
Claimants Legal Team (upto end July 2014) –
Miss Kaye Longhorn – Cohen Cramer Solicitors(apparently now departed employment)
Miss Emily Slater – Cohen Cramer Solicitors(apparently now been fired) aka Miss Emily I-am-the-law Slater
Miss Gemma Bowkett – Cohen Cramer Solicitors(apparently now departed employment)
Mr Michael McDonnell – Cohen Cramer Solicitors
Mr Matthew Richardson – Barrister @ Henderson Chambers aka Mr Matthew tweedledum Richardson (Ex-UKIP General Secretary … that didn’t last long!)
Mr Adam Richardson – Barrister @ Warwick House Chambers aka Mr Adam tweedledee Richardson
Claimants Legal Team (post July 2014) –
Miss Clare Painter – Group Manager, Gateway Homes UK Ltd aka Jane Wood (trying to act as a McKenzie Friend)
Mr Nick Statman – acting as a Litigant In Person
Mr Stuart Brown – acting as Litigant In Person, represented at Trial by Miss Omar