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
SOLICITORS Kings Court, 12 King Street, Leeds,
Leisure Connection Limited
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
have written in similar terms (in relation to the contents of your website only)
to your internet service provider, BT.
28 September 2004
Reference MAS/LXE/KUN.5-16 – Leisure Connection
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.
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.
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:
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
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.”
this web page still lists under “Commercial
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.
regard to the Private Eye piece, the paragraphs referring to Hackney are:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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