Chris Bovey is a businessman and co-founder of NORML UK, and was sued, along with myself, Alun Buffry, and Greg de Hoedt by Peter Reynolds last year. To date, Alun Buffry has chosen to settle out of court, Greg has not yet been served with the court papers, and I won judgement and costs in November. This week, Chris had his first hearing and has also had the case struck out with costs awarded. Chris kindly agreed to an interview in order to publish his side of the story.
So, what happened in a nutshell?
Last February, I received a defamation writ from the Royal Courts of Justice issued by Peter Reynolds. I knew it was nonsense, however, when you get a lawsuit taken out against you, you can’t ignore it. The case has dragged on for nearly a year and last Thursday my legal team made an application to have Peter Reynolds’ entire case struck out. They succeeded, it was struck out and he was ordered to pay my legal fees, which are to be determined at a date in the near future.
What did he actually sue you for?
Mainly for calling him a bigot. There were some comments I’d made on Facebook calling him a racist, a homophobe and an anti-Semite, and I’d shared some satirical cartoons (that were widely shared anyway) taking the piss out of him. There were some comments where I’d called him names, but I was pretty angry at the time, as he’d falsely accused me on Facebook of hacking the CLEAR web site and reported me to the police for it, boasting on Facebook that I was likely to go to prison. Nothing ultimately came of the police investigation. Although I didn’t take this seriously, my girlfriend saw that post and it upset her.
What was your girlfriend’s reaction to the lawsuit?
I laughed when I saw the writ, but it really upset my partner, because she saw stamps saying Royal Courts of Justice, and was like, “Chris, what have you done”? She started crying, which made my kids become frightened and my little girl started crying too. That really made me angry. Within half an hour, I’d booked a meeting with a top London firm of online defamation lawyers for the following Tuesday.
What did the lawyers say?
I met with a lawyer called John Spyrou, who specialises in Internet defamation and sports law. He was of the opinion that Peter Reynolds had taken a very risky course of action and thought they would have a good chance of success of getting the claim struck out of court before it went to trial. It’s in no-one’s interests to go to trial because of the sheer cost involved.
John was even prepared to take it on a no-win-no-fee basis, he was that confident. However, a no-win-no-fee agreement is the decision of an insurance company, not the lawyers themselves. Unfortunately, it was turned down, not because of the merits of the case, but because of Peter Reynolds’ apparent lack of assets. There was no guarantee that even if I won, he would have the money to pay.
John said I was the calmest client he’d ever met who was being sued and that normally he has to spend the meeting reassuring the client not to worry. I genuinely wasn’t worried, since I was absolutely confident I had not defamed Mr Reynolds and was of the opinion, like you, that this was an exercise in intimidation.
I had no desire to play lawyers and barristers with Peter Reynolds, so I hired professionals to handle the case for me, though that does not mean it wasn’t a massive inconvenience and still took up many hours of my time. In the meeting I asked quite a few questions about who would pay my costs in the event of a successful defence of the claim, the answer obviously being that the claimant normally would be ordered by the Court to pay either the majority or all of the legal fees incurred should they be unsuccessful.
Was it fair that Peter Reynolds represented himself and you had professional lawyers?
It takes six years to qualify as a solicitor or barrister, and I was given a deadline of just six weeks to prepare and submit a defence. I’m a very busy man and know little to nothing about Civil Procedure Rules or defamation law, so I was left with no choice other than to hire professional legal representation. Peter Reynolds suggested that I take legal advice, and unlike him, I did.
I never asked to be sued and his case was cringeworthy. I wish he had sought legal advice and obtained professional legal representation, since I am informed that he would have been advised by any competent lawyer to withdraw the case immediately. It would have saved everyone a whole lot of time and money.
Have you seen his blogpost declaring “mission accomplished”?
Yes, and I have very little to say about it. I’ve obviously taken a record and sent it to my lawyers. Good thing I did, since he changed it the following day. In the original he stated “He stands not a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a penny from me!” and openly admitted that he was going to appeal it to try and cost me more money. Somebody must have told him that publicly admitting you’re trying to abuse the court system to raise the other side’s costs is not the wisest thing to do when you’re about to enter costs proceedings.
Is it true you’re part of a “some international gang of legal high distributors”?
I was actually one of the few people involved in the UK headshop industry who never sold mephedrone or other white powders like Benzo Fury (sold as bath salts), because I didn’t want anything to do with it. It didn’t sit right with me. But I’ve been a long-time and well-known proponent of regulating the so called legal high market. I believe the sale of psychoactive substances should be regulated and if the Government is genuinely interested in harm reduction, they should follow the lead of New Zealand where they have recently regulated the market.
Funnily enough, when I was a member of CLEAR, Reynolds was always bugging me for free samples and there’s a radio clip of him on the Lou Collins Radio Show plugging my business before we fell out (he always called me Lord Bovey for some weird reason). Here, if you keep listening you can also hear him complaining about people attacking him for his blogposts well before I knew what was going on (a couple months before it all kicked off, I’d suffered a minor stroke, so I was more concerned with my health issues than Peter Reynolds’ blog):
Is it true that you and your fellow defendants tried to contact Peter Reynolds’ mother and children?
No, that’s not true. I’ve never contacted his children or his mother. Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I wouldn’t know how to, since Reynolds is quite a common surname and I don’t have a clue where they live. Peter Reynolds has been making out that he went to the courts in exasperation because we were all “harrassing” his family members, but none of our claims contained any allegations that any of us had actually done so.
The only time I met another member of the Reynolds family, was when his son Richard Reynolds, a trainee barrister, accompanied his father to a mediation meeting between themselves, me and my lawyer John Spyrou.
What’s a mediation meeting and what happened?
The court requires all parties to attempt to settle their differences before trial, usually at a meeting with a third party mediator, who tries to guide everyone to a deal they can all be happy with.
Peter Reynolds and his son came in very bolshie, demanding a full apology and retraction, and also £12,000, saying if we did not agree to this, they’d get £100,000 out of me in the courts. My lawyer told him there was no way they would get that kind of money even if they did win, and that he was under strict instructions from his client that he was not prepared to give him a penny. They kept talking with my lawyer and left the room a few times, then next they made an offer that I just make an apology, and again, John turned them down.
In the end, Peter Reynolds actually said they were prepared to shut it down if each party agreed to bear their own costs and sign a meaningless agreement similar to the one that Alun Buffry signed. They left with that on the table, but I instructed my law firm immediately afterwards that I was not interested in such an offer. The meeting was quite a surreal experience, but it was quite fun watching John, a professional libel lawyer, grind them both down to nothing.
What about the actual hearing this week? What happened at that?
That was surreal too. I had to travel all the way to London from Devon to attend, missing my son’s 11th birthday. It was held in Master Eastman’s office, so was a very grand room with a big desk in the middle with the Master sat behind, with my barrister, Yuli Tatatsuki on the left and Peter Reynolds on the right. Then me and another lawyer sat at the back, as John couldn’t make it that day.
Peter Reynolds started off the hearing by asking for an adjournment of one week, saying he’d only seen the skeleton argument for the strike out a few hours prior, because he was travelling and couldn’t open the attachments on his phone, blah blah; it was a sorry sight, reminded me of a teenager trying to blag another week to do his homework. My Counsel pointed out the skeleton was properly served on time. Master Eastman didn’t seem that impressed either, saying something along the lines that defamation was a very serious matter that Mr Reynolds had chosen to bring before the courts, and if he didn’t make himself available to view correctly served documents by the defence that was his tough luck; “Request denied, I want to get on with this today”.
Here is a copy of the skeleton argument, which was made and was subsequently successful, which gives you the basis of the Strike Out:
Judge Tugendhat further stated that such a situation was especially unjust to the defendant where there was a risk of not being able to recover costs against the claimant. In such a case, only the litigant-in-person stands to win. He concluded in his judgement that:
“…the potential injustice to a defendant in the position of ITV is such that the court must exercise its powers of case management in the light of the overriding objective with great care. If a case cannot succeed, the sooner that it is decided the better for everyone.”
What was Peter Reynolds’ counter-argument?
The usual waffle about how I was somehow responsible for an organised campaign against him, but providing no evidence, and how it would be a travesty of justice if he were not allowed to force me spend £200,000+VAT in legal bills to have his defectively pleaded case taken to trial. He hardly answered any of the issues raised by my Counsel.
And how did he take losing?
Well, I was sat behind him, so I could for most of the time only see the back of his head.
The Master instructed us to go outside for 10 minutes while he wrote his judgement and then we went back in; it was pretty clear the way it was going from the start, but it took about 20 mins for him to read it and then at the end I heard the beautiful words, “I am striking this out”.
Peter Reynolds tried to put on some bravado and shook the barrister’s hand, asking her where she studied. He asked the Master a few questions like whether he could get a transcript, whether he could appeal. My favourite bit was when the Master said to him something along the lines of “Mr Reynolds, you do realise you’ve lost and in such circumstances the losing party has to pay the other side’s costs?”, and him saying “Yes”.
He left pretty pronto after that.
Peter Reynolds says he is going to appeal. What do you reckon his chances?
Pretty poor. Master Eastman did NOT invite him to appeal, Peter Reynolds asked him if he could appeal the decision and he got a curt four word response “that is your right”, which certainly cannot be interpreted, as he’s written, as “Master Eastman has invited me to appeal to a more senior judge and I think I probably will.”
Afterwards, my Counsel told me his chances of a successful appeal would be very slim and while, like Peter Reynolds, I have no legal training, I’d say those slim chances were made even slimmer now he’s posted publicly that he was going to appeal simply to cost me more money in legal fees and had no intention of paying any costs he’s required to by the court.
What happens now? How much have you won in costs?
Now we move to costs proceedings. The exact amount of costs will be determined at a later date in the near future, but I can tell you it’s not an inconsiderable amount. You can’t actually get out of a costs order by posting to the internet that you don’t intend to pay, so I shall be in touch with my lawyers tomorrow to see what legal avenues there are to recover the monies. As soon as I get an exact figure of what he has been ordered to pay, I’m sure you’ll be the first person to know. Fortunately, there are measures in law to get money owed from people who don’t want to pay their debts, but we’ll cross those bridges when we come to them. I never asked to be sued, like you, everyone I showed the case to said it was the most ridiculous thing they’d ever read.
The writs and hearings alone have cost him almost £10,000 then on top of whatever he is finally ordered to pay you and my own legal costs, I should imagine the final bill will be extremely high. He’s effectively paid a small fortune to make what was already a bad reputation even worse. LOL!
Thanks very much Chris. You’re still writing the foreword to my book?
They say everyone has a book in them, and they also say your first book should be about a subject you know about. Well we both, not through choices of our own, know a fair bit about this now and I’m far too lazy to write a book, but you can probably squeeze a foreword out of me, so I think it’s a good deal that I get to write the short foreword and you get to write the actual book!
Final note: I promised when I won my own case that I would publish all of the correspondence and documentation. This, and the book-writing, was held up temporarily while Peter Reynolds did a legal thing, but that is now at an end and the documents at least should follow shortly. Stay tuned!