Updated: Dec 21, 2022
There’s a lot been said on social media these past couple of days about the law and courts and the legal process and I reckon if I’d not been a fabricator I’d have been a surgeon or a musician or anything combining fine motor skills with a smattering of art and creativity but most definitely not a lawyer. And yet everything I do tries to turn me into one!
When my core business was vehicle security I seemed to spend more time in court as an expert or talking to cops or inspecting vehicles stolen or used in crime or both than actually doing my job, yet I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. There’s something thrilling about pitting your wits against a barrister (sometimes two at once) in that high pressure environment. They’re very clever and sharp and want to make you look incompetent by any means but I got pretty good at holding my own.
Then, when I got serious about my hobby of finding things under water, guess what happened there? I ended up in court as an expert with that too and working with the underwater cops often on high profile cases.
My training in the goings on of the criminal justice system went on for years and may well have ended there but fate had other ideas. How would I like another intensive training course but in civil law this time? I didn’t get a choice.
The trolls like this part. They like to allude to my legal wranglings with my estranged family but they are either incapable of getting their facts right or they aren’t letting the truth get in the way of a good story so either way, and for the avoidance of doubt, here’s what really happened.
If nothing else I hope it makes for an entertaining read.
I never wanted to be a builder. That’s what the family did so I was half relieved when the family firm fizzled out in the mid 80s leaving me with no choice but to do something else. Fabrication became my thing while my parents tried again at the building. Sister became a nurse, married and went to Saudi.
I made a good hand of growing my business but the building trade wasn’t recovering at all so I gave my parents jobs. Mother doing the books, Father running the office. I also bought plots of land and hired him at cost plus ten percent to build houses and flats for me.
All went well for a good few years until one day I was looking through a cash book (still on paper at the time) and noticed an entry for a payment from my director’s loan account that had been obliterated with correction fluid and my initials inserted instead. Two minutes later after picking away with a scalpel blade the lid was off a massive can of worms.
To give a gauge of how bad it was I would later discover that money had been stolen from my director's account so I could pay for my own wedding and buy myself a wedding present and that was merely the tip of the iceberg. Then it turned out they had been siphoning money off to my sister. She had returned from Saudi and was still a nurse but had never worked a day in her life for me! Needless to say that was stopped at once.
The first shock came when Sister launched an employment tribunal. That was 2012.
How can someone who never worked for you do that? The employment lawyer was as puzzled as I was but what neither of us saw coming was the rest of the family standing shoulder to shoulder lying to the judge about all the sterling work sister had done. For most of her alleged employment she’d been in Saudi Arabia.
It didn’t help that before I even got into the court the clerk said I didn’t have a chance with such a claimant friendly judge. He wasn’t kidding.
Next up was Mother and this time I dropped the ball, cocked up the process and lost again. Though the judge did say she was forced to allow the claim to succeed on a technicality and awarded the minimum.
There was no third tribunal – that dismissal was done by the book.
Now that ought to have been the end of that but in February 2015, emboldened by their previous successes, they decided to have another go and issued High Court proceedings claiming I had promised them millions of pounds worth of property and goodness knows what else. In the trolls' version I sued my mother. It was the other way around.
The claim was was pure fabrication too but, to quote one of the lawyers, it was now time to ‘waltz with the gorilla’. And by God it’s a long and painful waltz most of the steps which I will spare the reader but following a few mandatory letters setting out what is about to happen they have their solicitor instruct counsel to write the proceedings then pay the court fees and a nasty looking bundle of paper with your name on the front arrives that says something like,
You owe us a fortune because, etc. That takes the form of a great long claim listing everything they thought they might like to have plus a few bonus items they thought they might try and make stick.
Next, my side wrote back in defence saying, no we don’t owe you anything because, etc. Then for some reason the first lot get another shot at you before the court ‘suggests’ you take a moment to reflect and possibly discuss things.
This we did and a mediation was arranged but the other side had a report written by a man who included a paragraph explaining that all he had to work with was what he’d been told so he couldn’t guarantee the accuracy of his own work. Unsurprisingly this report set out how they were entitled to the moon on a stick. I, on the other hand, had professional valuations for all sorts of things just to be sure of my ground. After my QC had asked them the same thing three times, got three different answers and boldly told them they were just making things up, they stuck to their ridiculous demands and nothing was resolved.
Much as it pained me, if I’d been able to get it off my desk there and then for less than it was going rack up in costs I’d have done it but it wasn’t happening so it was going to be cheaper to let the process rumble on until its wheels fell off as they undoubtedly would. The more it drudged on, and we’re talking years here, the more it began to unravel until one day they announced they were abandoning the case.
Fine with me, now it was time to settle the costs but they weren’t done yet. They had decided by some means that they had partially won so they demanded an ‘issues based’ costs-hearing where a judge would look at what they had won and what they hadn’t and award costs that way. Except they hadn’t won anything and they lost catastrophically. Then they made matters worse for themselves by storming off in defeat leaving their lawyers without instruction so the judge simply awarded me 100% of my costs. That being the costs of years of drudgery plus the costs of the costs hearing. That was an expensive afternoon for them. My lawyers said they’d never seen that happen before.
So that should have been that – but it still wasn’t. in December 2018 they decided they would start all over again with another High Court action for unfair prejudice When I first set the company up I accidentally set fire to two expensive cars. Well, technically it wasn’t me, but it was my company and I didn’t have the money to repair them so Father offered to pay the bill in return for a 24% shareholding. I was in a corner so that’s how it went and if I made a profit they got a small dividend but as minority shareholders they now claimed I was moving money around the company and into my pocket to prevent them receiving said dividend, which I wasn’t, but they convinced themselves I was so the gorilla got its dancing shoes back on and away we went once more.
But once again their case was holed beneath the waterline because I had demonstrably clean hands and as the discovery process unfolded this became ever more obvious. I also wanted to be more involved this time so I’d studied long and hard and did an appreciable amount of the work myself. I bought the Civil Litigation Handbook, read it late into the night and applied what I’d learned next day. I even wrote the defence and was very pleased when it stood up to professional scrutiny. It was rewarding to be an active part of the process that saw their claims evaporate one after the next until they finally requested a mediation.
The second mediation was great fun. It was December 2019 by now.
I sat with my wife, Rachel, in Kings Chambers in Leeds. We went down on the train for an early start and met our lawyer, Alex, and another long-time associate, Hugh Jory KC, or QC as he was then. Hugh is a fascinating chap fluent in both carpentry and Italian, not to mention being an especially deadly advocate, and Alex is a down to earth Yorkshire lass who won’t use two words if one will do.
The mediator was a charming, avuncular ex-judge called Peter Langham. Peter was rumoured to have been merciless in his court days but we found him perfectly charming. He would knock politely then come into our room to say, the other side wants the moon on a stick and then leave again while we had a swift conference then Hugh would disappear for a few minutes and return to say they still wanted the moon on a stick and so it went on all day until from nowhere and fairly late into the evening, Hugh announced he’d had enough and would we like to see the Town Square Tavern? Apparently, being smack in the middle of the legal quarter, you could get an affidavit signed there at midnight because it was the drinking den of all the lawyers.
There was beer on offer too, we weren’t going to miss that.
So we put on our coats, picked up our bags and headed out into the night. Or at least we tried to.
What happened next is that the other side was still quartered in another room somewhere where we never clapped eyes on them from beginning to end whilst Peter had a small office in the lobby that we had to pass on our way out but he wasn’t there so Hugh was busy leaving him a note to say where we’d gone when he appeared and was rather taken aback to discover we were off for a pint.
Things happened very quickly after that, Peter asked us to hang on a moment while he went to see if there had been any change with the other side. We’d already told them they weren’t getting the moon on a stick. They weren’t getting the moon, full stop. In fact they weren’t even getting the stick. Their second case was collapsing because I’d done nothing wrong so they were told they could have a twig, hand over the shares and take it or leave it. They were going to lose again and get hit with my costs for a second time so they grabbed the twig to cover their losses and Rachel and me were sent off to the pub while the legal team did their thing.
Hugh and Alex showed up at the pub eventually waving a bunch of contracts that would make sure the matter was finally at an end and never to be repeated. I was about four pints under by this time. Apparently there had been a lot of crying in the other camp and when I asked Hugh what had taken so long he wickedly said he’d been trying to get a dry copy. That was 6th December 2019. Peter Langham joined us for a few moments to wish us well too. We were touched by that, he didn’t have to do that, then the twig was paid over the Christmas and that was the end of that.
And then the world returned to how it had been before, only not as exciting. Initially I was relieved that the emails announcing their twists and turns had stopped. It became so intense at one point that I asked that the lawyers didn’t forward any on a Friday so I wouldn’t be tempted to work over the weekend but once it was all done it wasn’t long before I began to miss the action, miss my lawyer friends and find myself like Sherlock Holmes without a case.
“My mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built. Life is commonplace; the papers are sterile; audacity and romance seem to have passed forever from the criminal world. Can you ask me, then, whether I am ready to look into any new problem, however trivial it may prove?”
The intensity of the Bute 2018 trip was burned out too, things were much more relaxed at BBP HQ and then we had the sudden cancellation of our runs on Coniston in 2019 and the pressure really fell away.
It was almost subconscious at first, but I found myself writing notes and reading articles and studying up on more of the details regarding the legal situation around the BBP. We have supporters in every discipline and the legal profession is well represented plus Hugh and Alex and one or two more from back in the day are still around so I set about picking all the legal brains I could find. Most of our legal people say the same thing, their cases are humdrum and ordinary for the most part but ours is interesting so they like to pore over it. The 22/23 Civil Litigation Handbook is out there, though I haven’t bought a copy, and over the past few years we’ve gradually pieced together a very comprehensive picture.
That said, do we want to get involved in litigation? Not really. It’s not pleasant when you’re in the thick of it.
Will we if necessary? Absolutely! To the bitter end.
Does it faze me or hold any fear? None whatsoever.
But I have no particular desire to extend my legal knowledge any further just in case fate decides divorce lawyer next...
With Alex (left) and Rachel signing the paperwork in the Town Square Tavern.
As a post script to this tale, the sharp eyed may have noticed that all the pencils in the BBP workshop are white with a rubber on the end - probably not.
It was an expensive business sitting around the barristers' chambers all day and the meter was running. On a table in our room was what looked like a fish bowl filled with pencils, hundreds of them. Well, you can probably guess the rest.