Commercial energy supplier and main club sponsor BES Utilities has won a High Court victory over two men who waged a three-year hate campaign against the company.
Lancashire-based BES also confirmed it has begun an £8.6 million claim for damages against Cheshire West and Chester Trading Standards.
Since late 2014, two individuals orchestrated an online campaign designed to damage the business and reputation of BES.
The High Court heard how the men:
- Issued false information about BES and allegedly manipulated customer complaints that were sent to regulatory bodies including Trading Standards and Ofgem
- Published offensive online articles, including abusive and homophobic images, with the intention of humiliating BES directors, employees and legal representatives
- Requested large sums of money from BES in return for ceasing their online campaign
- Discussed teaming up with an energy brokerage, whereby the two men would receive payment for forwarding customer details to the broker, who would then attempt to move customers from BES to other energy suppliers in return for a commission payment
Following the hearing, in the High Court at Manchester, the men – who reside in Mansfield and Reading – were issued with court orders containing penal notices. They have given undertakings to the court they will cease their behaviour and remove any published reference to BES, its directors, employees, agents and representatives.
If the men fail to comply with the order they may be held in contempt of court and could be fined or imprisoned. The court has also ordered that if the defendants breach the undertakings, they will be required to pay £250,000 towards BES’s substantial legal costs.
Both defendants have signed the following statement: “We withdraw any allegation of fraud or dishonesty against Business Energy Solutions Limited and BES Commercial Electricity Limited, their directors, officers, agents, legal advisers and other professional representatives.”
BES founder and Managing Director Andy Pilley said: “We are delighted our company and our people have been totally vindicated and that this long running online hate campaign is finally at an end.
“Not only was the activity of these two individuals designed to harm the business, but also humiliate loyal staff and colleagues in the most disgusting and hateful way.
“We have no doubt that action taken by Trading Standards in July 2016, in respect of BES and other companies, was informed in no small part by the false information provided by these individuals. We have now lodged a claim for damages against Cheshire West and Chester Trading Standards in the High Court.”
Trading Standards officials and police visited the premises of BES and energy aggregator company Commercial Power Ltd, both founded by Mr Pilley, in July 2016.
To date, and despite the passage of 18 months since Trading Standards executed search warrants at premises in Fleetwood and Blackpool, no director or employee of BES or Commercial Power, has been interviewed by investigating officers.
A claim for damages, in excess of £8.6 million, in relation to significant reputational and financial loss has been lodged with the High Court by BES and Commercial Power.
Following the undertakings given in the High Court by the two individuals, in relation to their online hate campaign, Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith has urged for more to be done to protect companies and individuals from online ‘trolls’.
Cat Smith MP said: “This case shows that greater opportunities to communicate online also offers new channels for anti-social behaviour, with hate speech, intimidation, racism, misogyny and trolling becoming increasingly common.
“Trolling can have damaging consequences for both individuals and businesses. Fighting back through the courts is costly and emotionally draining for the individuals involved. I believe more needs to be done to stop internet abuse from escalating.”