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Bad smells in Ilkeston - episode 2

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The Legal Threats Start

On Saturday 20th June 2009 I received a recorded delivery letter from the same company of solicitors, Berryman Shacklock of  Nottingham, who had visited our website at least ten months earlier. Sent as a 'letter of claim in conformity with the Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation' it disputed everything we had published on this website relating to the engineering company whose land now borders the terrace of houses. They demanded that we remove 'libellous' content.

Naturally, the denials were all based on the word of the company's managing director - Richard Hayden - and no evidence was supplied to substantiate their claim that our published report was 'a collection of exaggerations and distortions' (as Berryman's put it). Furthermore, they accused our correspondent's husband of criminal damage and causing injury to one of their employees by firing projectiles at him with a catapult. If anything, that was far more defamatory than anything I had published because there was nothing to substantiate their accusations.

If I did not agree to this demand by 4pm on Friday 3rd July 2009 Berryman threatened to issue proceedings for libel seeking an injunction, damages and costs against me in the High Court.

My understanding of libel is that it refers to published matter that is untrue. On that basis, and based on the evidence I had seen and researched, I considered the content of our article was a fair reflection of the facts. My initial reaction was that, if necessary, I would have to defend the action in the High Court. However, I responded to Berryman's with a list of 19 questions which, if answered, would give their client an opportunity to substantiate their claim that they had acted as responsible neighbours to the occupiers of the 15 domestic residences which lie adjacent to their now expanded yard.

These are the questions I asked:

  1. Can you assure me that Mr Hayden is not a member of any organisations or associations that also have the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, officers or councillors  of the local authority as members?
  2. What equipment was used to measure sound levels at the premises, who owns the equipment, and how often is the noise level monitored?
  3. Can you amplify the last sentence of the second paragraph on page 3 of your letter, more specifically explain who was 'completely unconcernedí?
  4. If the filmed evidence of thick black smoke was, as you claim, from the Environment Agencyís works west of the site, the camera operator would have to film through the walls of several houses. On the basis, therefore, that the only other potential suspect might be the car scrap yard, can you please mark the attached image (car_scrapyard.jpg) to show where a fire might be safely lit bearing in mind that scrapped cars contain lethal volumes of petroleum fuel or vapours.
  5. The Google Earth images shown on my website clearly indicate that the triangular plot of land was transmuted from a green area to one covered with hardcore which will have been subsequently compacted by the equipment used on it and by the storage of Portacabins. Can you please explain how Hayden could have been so saddened by the demise of one tree, possibly more, that was (were) obviously going to be removed one way or the other before the land was covered with aggregate?
  6. If local residents were using the plot for fly-tipping, as you suggest, can you please explain how they gained access?
  7. The Environment Agency report covering the June 2007 flooding clearly states that water did NOT rise from the River Erewash. Flooding was caused by excessive rainwater that could not drain from the land at the rear of the properties in Wentworth Street. Can you therefore explain how the aggregate covering on the triangular plot was not an attributable cause of this flooding?
  8. Please explain how aggregate sufficiently deep to take the weight of heavy goods vehicles is no less porous than greenery which absorbs water through leaves and roots.
  9. Exactly what criminal damages were occasioned on Rayden property and where is the proof?
  10. Exactly how many employees were injured by catapulted missiles? Please provide names and contact details.
  11. Where were the target employees standing when DCís husband allegedly pounced with his prehistoric arsenal of weapons?
  12. Please explain why, with several houses backing onto the disputed land, DCís husband would have been singled out as the culprit.
  13. Please provide a copies of written requests to the residents of Wentworth Street to install CCTV equipment that might possibly infringe their privacy. Please supply also the residentsí replies.
  14. Please advise whether the CCTV camera is fixed or remotely controlled.
  15. Does an employee monitor the surveillance equipment constantly?
  16. Please state whether the blocking out system on the camera is physical or electronic.
  17. Please provide the trading name of the professional security supplier and a contact number.
  18. If the Information Commissioner stated that the images produced by the surveillance equipment were of such poor quality that identification of any individual would be unlikely, what grounds did the police have for arresting DCís husband after watching the tape at Raydenís premises?
  19. Please provide copies of the records showing work on the CCTV system.

23rd June: I received another letter from Berryman's who refused to answer any of my questions and merely repeated their earlier threats. But this time they brought forward the deadline by a whole week to 26th June. I couldn't possibly meet that deadline and told them so.

25th June: Another letter received from Berryman's demonstrating that solicitors often put a completely different interpretation on the English language than the average person. But solicitors are an arrogant bunch who naturally assume that what they say is gospel and expect everyone to kow-tow to their demands. They don't necessarily let the truth or factual evidence get in the way of satisfying their clients' demands.

I got the impression that they did not want the truth to prevail in this case. They made two statements which were undoubtedly false and, to me, that signified the lengths they were prepared to go to in order to suppress the truth.

They gave me a new deadline which was simply not attainable as I was already fully committed for the following five days. However, at this point I decided to edit the published article so that nothing was said that could be considered to be remotely libellous. Click here to read the revised version.

I felt sure this would only be a temporary solution as I suspected many people were colluding in a conspiracy to cover up the truth. But I was determined not to desert my original correspondent or her husband by backing down to the threats of a man who probably thought he could always buy his way out of trouble. There were many questions that still had to be asked - questions that could affect many other people in a similar position - and I was still certain it was in the public interest that, one way or another, the truth came out.

On 18th August 2009 Richard Hayden initiated legal proceedings for defamation through the Royal Courts of Justice in London. That is 17 months after I published the article (March 2008) yet it is commonly accepted that actions for defamation should be brought within the year. Hayden had every opportunity to bring the claim months earlier but failed to do so which suggests that he was not overly serious about protecting his 'reputation'.

In an effort to refute DC's allegations, Rayden Engineering made written statements representing their version of events. But I visited the site on 30th September 2009 and saw for myself how farcical these statements were. I also took a number of photographs. Click here to see the evidence yourself.

After my initial experiences with this firm of solicitors, I got the distinct impression they were determined the case would not go before a jury. But you can read more in the next chapter - The Legal Process.

Vigilant Observer

Readers' Comments

DC, Ilkeston writes:

The whole concept of defamation proceedings is to "expeditiously" restore damaged reputation at the "earliest" opportunity in which to mitigate the alleged damage. Richard Hayden has always been, and has admitted to being, aware of the well-publicised allegations prior to publication on the 'councilanddeveloper' website and thereafter on the website itself. It took Richard Hayden 33 months to instigate his current legal actions for defamation.

Both defendants have now been waiting a total of 44 weeks for Mr Hayden's formal admittance or denial of the allegations and, if the latter, the facts on which he wishes to place reliance on in that denial. Despite Mr Hayden applying for and being granted TWO extensions of time in which to comply with Court directions, no compliance has been forthcoming. One would have assumed after a total of 44 months from the initial well-publicised allegations that Mr Hayden would have provided some semblance of proof of the "falsity" of the allegations levelled against him. But not one shred of proof or one document has been forthcoming. In addition Mr Hayden has refused TWO formal attempts at mediation which could have amicably resolved the issues, instead choosing to bully and threaten co-defendant publishers into retraction. Mr Hayden should now either (somewhat belatedly) comply with court directions orders in preparation for determination of the issues by trail in front of a jury or he should file a formal discontinuance notice with the Royal Court of Justice. What he cannot do is issue threats of dire retribution and then bury his head in the sand (as is currently the case) and ignore those he has bullied and threatened with ultimatums.

As Litigants in Person chartering unfamiliar territory, we have complied to the letter with Court directions orders. Mr Hayden with an expensive and well versed legal team at his disposal has not. We as Litigants in Person are fully prepared and ready for trial, Mr Hayden with an arsenal of legal "tactics" at his disposal is obviously not. WHY NOT?? When the whole concept of defamation is to restore reputation at the "earliest opportunity" - not some 43 months later. We are not afraid of the truth and are certainly not afraid to stand and defend the justified allegations contained within the publications complained of!

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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