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   LC TRIES TO CLOSE DOWN LCW

The full correspondence is set out here but in short, in September 2004 LC's solicitor sent a letter alleging LCW and my advertising of it was defamatory and designed to cause LC financial loss. The solicitors arguments were rebutted promptly (see below) and as of 28.12.04 there have been no further threats. One of the items the solicitor challenged was taken from Private Eye. I understand from Private Eye that they have not been contacted by LC or its solicitor about this matter. 

The solicitor suggested I would be hearing from PMP but, as yet, no response has been received from this consultancy. He also claimed to have written to BT as the internet service provider. My response was copied to BT and BT wrote saying they were not aware of any correspondence regarding LCW.  The item concerning PMP. 

I thank BT-Yahoo for allowing the site to continue as it appears many other ISPs would have closed me down. Professor John Naughton (author of "The Origins of the Future; a brief history of the Internet") wrote in the Observer on 17.10.04 about the caution of ISPs in such matters.  "...ISPs are, for the most part... owned by shareholders and run by accountants and lawyers who tend to see the upholding of free speech as loss-making activities best avoided. What this means is that when a threatening letter arrives, they tend to take down the site, 'just to be on the safe side.'" It is great that BT Yahoo has not simply given in to the possibility of legal action. PB

WALKER MORRIS SOLICITORS Kings Court, 12 King Street, Leeds, LS1 2HL.

Paul Burns...                                                         Our ref             MAS/LXE/KUN.5-16

Dear Sir

Leisure Connection Limited

We are instructed by Leisure Connection Limited in connection with your website “Leisure Connection Watch” (at www.btinternet.com/~.-paul.burns/) and your contact with our client’s customers. 

Certain information contained on your website is incorrect and defamatory and is likely (and appears to be designed) to cause our client serious financial loss. Without prejudice to our client’s complaints about the site generally (and our further comments below), we refer to two specific examples below which are defamatory. 

You refer to our client’s Quest accreditation, which you say is granted by an organisation with which our client has “commercial ties”. In particular, you say that PMP (the body which operates the Quest scheme) acts as a consultant to our client. Our client has no business relations with PMP, which does not act as a consultant to it. The implicit suggestion that our client has gained Quest accreditation as a result of its existing business connections with PMP is false and defamatory and (in the context of your website as a whole) is clearly designed to cause, and is likely to have the effect of causing, damage our client’s reputation generally and to result in the loss of contracts and/or business opportunities for it. Your false statements regarding Quest are also clearly defamatory of PMP, who we understand are proposing to take their own action in respect of your website. 

Your website contains an article first published by Private Eye in March 2004, which refers to our client’s contract with Hackney Borough Council. The gist of that article is that our client’s operation of leisure facilities generally is poor and, in particular, that our client has caused the closure of the Clissold Leisure Centre. These allegations are false both generally and specifically in relation to the closure of Clissold. The serious problems at Clissold which caused the closure of that facility and the inability of the Council to re-open it result from serious problems with its design and construction and are the subject of current litigation between Hackney and its design team. 

Our client has asked you to explain the purpose of your website, which you have said is intended to ensure that our client provides the best service possible for Vale Farm users. We understand that you are a regular user of the Vale Farm Leisure Centre operated by our client. 

Our client has dealt with all of the specific issues and concerns you and other users have raised concerning Vale Farm. At a recent meeting with you and other regular early morning swimmers, all other users said they were satisfied that their concerns had been properly addressed. Your site deals with all of our client’s leisure facilities across the UK, not just Vale Farm. Furthermore it contains a section which deals specifically with our client’s existing contracts with local authorities and with prospective contracts which our client is seeking to secure by tender. We are aware that you have also made direct approaches to some of the local authorities with whom our client already has contracts or with whom it is in negotiations for contracts. You have raised your concerns about our client’s performance in relation to the management of leisure facilities and drawn their attention to your website which contains false and defamatory material. 

It is therefore quite clear that your objectives in operating your website and in making approaches to our client’s customers and prospective customers goes beyond simply ensuring the best service possible for Vale Farm users. In particular, it is clear from the nature of the concerted campaign that you have orchestrated against our client that you intend to damage our client’s business. In any event that is the likely effect of your website and your other activities. 

We require your confirmation that you will take down your website with immediate effect and that you will not repeat any of the defamatory material contained on it (which is not limited to the examples set out above). We also require your immediate confirmation that your “campaign” against our client will stop immediately and, in particular, that you will not make any further contact with our client’s customers. Any specific complaints regarding services at Vale Farm can, of course, be raised with our client direct and any unresolved matters can then be raised with Brent council. Our client’s rights including the right to pursue claims for defamation and/or malicious falsehood and/or unlawful interference with contents and business are strictly reserved. 

We have written in similar terms (in relation to the contents of your website only) to your internet service provider, BT. 

Yours faithfully

WALKER MORRIS

28 September 2004

Your Reference MAS/LXE/KUN.5-16 – Leisure Connection

 Dear Walker Morris

 I have your letter of 27 September 2004. It strikes me as an unreasonable attempt to suppress fair comment and below I show that some of the claims you make do not stand up to scrutiny. I am left wondering if the aim of the letter was less about justice and more about frightening my ISP or me to close down Leisure Connection Watch (LCW). I trust BT Yahoo will study both of our letters before taking any action. 

You have not demonstrated any factual errors on LCW. This is not surprising as apart from my own experiences in Brent, LCW relies very much on reports from newspapers and local government websites.  

I welcome any genuine attempt to correct information on Leisure Connection Watch (LCW). I think you will be aware that I have invited both Brent Council and Leisure Connection to add short statements to LCW items and links to their own websites. I presume you are aware that Quest already has a response added to LCW. All it took was an email to me for their statement to appear.   

LCW is principled and not simply determined to score points at the expense of Leisure Connection. For example, I draw your attention to the item on LCW about Lambeth dated 29.1.04. I could easily have presented this newspaper report as it was and left it far more damning to Leisure Connection. However, I added this comment. “I sought further information from Lambeth Council about this incident. In fairness I note that the council said that the penalty was issued due to facility closure rather than the health & safety.” Such a comment is not consistent with the implication that I have set out to defame Leisure Connection. 

With regard to your remarks about PMP and Leisure Connection’s commercial ties, the quote on LCW you allude to says:  

For me the accreditation by Quest of Vale Farm twice during the years when so many deficiencies have been reported raises questions about the value of the scheme. I regret that Sport England has contracted Quest to a business that acts as a consultant for Leisure Connection and presumably seeks business from other leisure centre operators. Would it not have been better to have Quest run by a body with no commercial ties to businesses seeking accreditation of centres?” 

I believe this view falls well within fair comment. Moreover, it is not just about Leisure Connection but about leisure companies in general. You have not shown that the material is false or defamatory. Indeed, the information that PMP has a commercial relationship with Leisure Connection was taken from PMP’s Client List on http://www.pmpconsult.com/clients/client_index.html . This starts with, “You can tell a consultancy by the company it keeps! Here is a selection of some of our recent clients.”  

Today this web page still lists under “Commercial Leisure Sector”:
Clear Channel Communications, David Lloyd Leisure, DC Leisure, Leisure Connections (sic), Next Generation Clubs, Trailfinders UK,Tussauds Group and Whitbread
 

If and when PMP write to me saying they made a mistake listing Leisure Connection or can explain how Leisure Connection is listed as a “recent client” but there is no commercial tie, then I will reconsider what I have placed on LCW.

 With regard to the Private Eye piece, the paragraphs referring to Hackney are:

 “LEISURE CONNECTION, the private firm which earns £I.5m a year for running Hackney’s intermittently-open swimming pools (Eye 1100), manages 120 sites under 50 contracts across Britain, mainly with local authorities. Like Hackney pools’ opening times, its record is patchy.”

Last year a report on Salisbury’s new £6m pool found that within three months of the opening cere­mony facilities were “dirty”, the swimming pool a “shambles”, waste-water filters were clogged with hair, thermostats broken and there was no hot water in the showers — similar problems to those that bedevilled Hackney’s “state-of-the-art” Clissold pool before it closed.  

Firstly, you have not made clear whether Leisure Connection has taken up this matter with Private Eye. The magazine regularly prints letters disputing its reporting. I undertake to publish on LCW any letters from Leisure Connection that have been or are sent to Private Eye in order to correct wrong information or present an alternative view, whether or not Private Eye prints them. Simply email them to me. 

Secondly, again you have failed to demonstrate what you claim, that Leisure Connection is represented as causing the closure of the Clissold Leisure Centre. The journalist points out a similarity between two centres managed by Leisure Connection. It is hard for me to see how a reader would conclude Leisure Connection was responsible for the closure of Clissold when there is no mention of Salisbury being closed.  

Private Eye goes on to raise questions about the record of Leisure Connection elsewhere. Unless you show otherwise, this is fair comment on matters of public record.  

As your two “specific examples” of alleged defamation are not accepted as such and one flies in the face of the evidence on PMP’s website, it is difficult to give credence to your claim that LCW is generally  “incorrect and defamatory”. However, I will examine any further specifics that you send, but please take more care with the research and the arguments. As LCW pages are updated from time to time I suggest that if you do send me any further items, you include copies of the web pages and the date on which they were taken.

You do not explain where Leisure Connection gets its understanding of the purpose of LCW. If they think it is simply about Vale Farm then they have misunderstood me and what is on LCW. I refer you to the homepage and “About LCW”. The latter refers to “…developing the Internet as another resource for consumers and local democracy.” The former says that LCW was prompted by poor standards at Vale Farm, little lasting improvement following many complaints and, other centres that have had problems with LC.  

I reject that the purpose of LCW is to cause Leisure Connection financial loss or damage its business interests. Along with many other leisure centre users I seek an end to having to complain repeatedly about poor standards. Given LCW operates nationally and is the major player in its sector, it is in the public interest that information is gathered and presented as it is on LCW. In effect you are asking for Leisure Connection’s deficiencies to be overlooked or kept at a local level rather than allowing people to see more of the picture. 

You refer to the User Meeting at Vale Farm on July 22nd. I do not understand how you can claim, “All other users said they were satisfied.” This is a ludicrous and major misrepresentation. Almost every one of the 25 or so users attending voiced complaints and I was thanked at the meeting for my work in drawing attention to the longstanding problems. Despite that meeting some problems have continued and details of the dissatisfaction are in the Customer Feedback Diary at the centre and in recent items on LCW.  

Yours faithfully   Paul Burns

 cc BT Yahoo,  Private Eye

Footnote

As of 31.12.04 PMP still listed Leisure Connections (sic) and other leisure centre operators as clients at http://www.pmpconsult.com/clients/client_index.html 

As of 12.12.06 there have been no further attempts to suppress LCW.