A judge at High Wycombe County Court last week threw out a ‘slander’ claim made by Kelly’s Vegies, a vegetable delivery company based in Maidenhead, against one of its customers for leaving a negative review on Google before the case was even heard.
Alice Ridgley was one of many frustrated customers who were driven to leave negative accounts of their experiences with the company on websites such as Trust Pilot and Google Reviews after falling foul of the firm’s onerous terms & conditions and poor customer service. In an attempt to silence its critics the company’s director, Kelly Wheeler, routinely challenged the reviewers and complained to the review websites for publishing ”spam reviews”. The company has since renamed its website to myfarmfreshbox.co.uk.
LegalBeagles was one of several consumer forums who were themselves the subject of legal threats from Mr Wheeler for publicising the issue and highlighting the adjudication made against the company by the Advertising Standards Authority
In the claim filed at the court Alice’s review (left) was alleged to have cost the company £50 a day in ‘lost sales’ ( totaling over £7000 at the date of the hearing) . Shortly after the claim was filed the company altered its online terms & conditions to include a clause that it could charge customers for posting ‘derogatory’ reviews in an apparent attempt to justify the legal action. In January 2016 the story was covered by the Mail On Sunday.
A local journalist who had asked Mr Wheeler about the case was told that both the clause and the court claim form had been ”photo-shopped” and that it was claim was for ”unpaid orders”.
With the help of the LegalBeagles forum Alice applied to the court to have the claim struck out principally on the basis that the Civil Procedure Rules specify that claims for damages for defamation cannot be made at the County Court unless otherwise agreed by the parties and the court dismissed the claim on that basis.
At the hearing the judge made clear that had the claim been issued at a higher court it had no chance of succeeding in any event as it was ”totally defective and completely uncompliant”.
Mr Wheeler didn’t attend, or inform the court he wouldn’t be attending, the hearing. He also failed to submit any documentation in the case beyond his initial claim form.
In his own Google review of the Legal Beagles forum Mr Wheeler described the legal help given to his customers as ”a joke”, something that Mr Wheeler may now wish to reconsider.