Online troll, who made a string of false negative reviews for a restaurant in Tripadvisor, was able to eat more than he could chew. £7,455.

Martin Stewart Potts, a campaigner, wrote 10 false reviews on Bispham Kitchen. The one that claimed the food caused his husband and children to get sick was his.

He made fake accusations about the family restaurant in Blackpool, Lancashire, between October 23 and November 16, 2018, claiming that the restaurant’s haddock was in fact ‘catfish’ and that their chips were ‘fried in burnt oil’.

Steve Hoddy, an experienced lawyer and a Cambridge first-class graduate, brought Potts to court. Judge Sephton found Potts guilty of maliciously falsehood during the hearing.

His compensation was to be paid to Mr. Hoddy in the amount of thousands.

After the verdict was delivered, Hoddy stated that trolling has become rampant and called false reviewers a “scourge in modern society”.

According to him, “Online trolling” is rampant and one of today’s biggest problems. This is becoming an epidemic. It can cause havoc in businesses.

Steve Hoddy from Bispham Kitchen who took a fake revier to court and won

Steve Hoddy of Bispham kitchen took a fake revevier to court, and was awarded the win

“I own Bispham Kitchen since 1944, and my company is strong enough to endure this kind of absurdity.

“But, especially for hotels it is an actual problem because people actually do pay more attention to hotel reviews as they tend to spend larger amounts of money.

MALICIOUS FALSEHOOD 

A malicious lie is one that has been uttered with malice. It means the author or speaker knew it was false, or it would do harm.

Economic interests are often protected by the law of malicious falsification.

Claims are sometimes made alongside  or as an alternative to defamation claims. 

An accusation is considered malicious when the one who made it knows that it’s false, or didn’t take proper precautions to verify it. 

Section 3(1) of the Defamation Act 1952 says that for a slander of title or slander of goods it is not necessary to allege or prove special damage if the words were ‘calculated to cause pecuniary damage’.

If the words cause damage to any business, office, profession or calling, it is also a violation of this rule. 

“It’s the curse of modern society.”

He claimed that he had received ten negative reviews of Bispham, Lancs’ family restaurant, in Blackpool between October 23rd, 2018 and November 16. 2018.

“About three years back, this man decided that he would troll Bispham Kitchen.

“He was using eight different usernames.

“He posted the first review, which stated that the owner glared at me weirdly while I was trying to eat my fish and chips. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

‘I don’t usually reply to reviews. But I did for this one. The reply was humorous in a certain way.

“I stated that Bispham Kitchen’s owner is the most delightful and charming person I have ever met. He would never dream of looking strangely at customers.”

“But, that seems to have provoked him into the flood of reviews over the following couple of weeks.

He said, “The problem is it was during the October half-term week, 2018, which was our busiest, serving almost a thousand clients per day.

He is now the manager of six restaurants as well as a take-out.

“It was just a bunch of fake reviews,” he said. Later, he also posted reviews about other businesses.

“But, he’d made similar spelling mistakes in the various reviews. It was clear that this was one person.

“With just four usernames, I had about one hundred reviews from other places. So, I was able time to put together a picture.

He knew what he was doing. He was traced and I confronted him.

Martin Potts bit off more than he could chew when restaurant owner Steve Hoddy (pictured), a trained lawyer with a first-class degree from Cambridge, took him to court

Martin Potts was able to eat more than he could chew, when Steve Hoddy (pictured), an experienced lawyer from Cambridge took him to trial.

Hoddy is also a lawyer and said that he first sent Potts letters to ask him for an apology.

He replied, “I sent him a note warning him that unless I received a written apology for his reviews, I would sue you for malicious falsity.”

“Unbeknownst to him, I studied law at university, and I have two law degrees. However, I do not practice law as a barrister.

I initiated criminal proceedings against him at Manchester County Court because he was committing malicious falsehood.

He stated, “These difficult actions are to take.

“Most people cannot bring such a case because they are complex, so a law office would have to charge high fees for this type of action.

“He first denied that he’d done reviews. He resisted my offer to present him with evidence.

“The Manchester Country Court brought the matter up on July 19. I won and was awarded £7,455 in damages and costs.

Mr. Hoddy stated that Potts seemed slow during court proceedings.

“He didn’t show up to the hearing, and made an excuse about having failed a lateral flow exam.

“As such, he applied for the judgement to be set aside. That hearing took place two weeks ago. The hearing was held over the telephone, and the application was refused.

Mr Hoddy, who is a trained lawyer, said he began by sending Potts letters, asking him to apologise for his false remarks. He said: 'I gave him a letter warning him that unless he apologised for the reviews, I would sue him for malicious falsehood. Unbeknown to him, I did law at university and have two law degrees, although I don't practice as a barrister. I issued proceedings against him in Manchester County Court (pictured) for malicious falsehood'

A lawyer by training, Mr Hoddy said that he first sent Potts letters to ask him to apologize for the false comments. Then he said, “I wrote him a note warning him that unless I received apologies for the reviews, if he doesn’t give me a full explanation for them,”. I studied law at University and I also have two law degree, but I am not a barrister. He was convicted of maliciously falsehood and I brought proceedings in Manchester County Court.

“He stated that Mr. Potts couldn’t prove that he took a lateral flow exam and dismissed his appeal.”

Hoddy stated that the case showed how easy it is for malign trolls hide their identity on sites like Tripadvisor.

He explained that Tripadvisor was not the best way to go to make reviewers reveal their identities.

According to their Terms and Conditions, any disputes with Tripadvisor should be settled in Massachusetts.

He contacted Tripadvisor immediately to complain about the incorrect reviews. Later, the site removed all comments.

After completing his law degree with distinction from Cambridge, Mr Hoddy was invited to sit at Inns of Court for the finals. However, he decided to enter Blackpool business.

He stated that most businesses wouldn’t be able put together a malicious falsehood case.

However, he said that he enjoys using the university knowledge and skills and treats the difficult process as a challenge.

He explained that he was a specialist in defamation but had no knowledge of county court procedures so he did some research.

It was something I enjoyed, and it is what I have been trained to do.

“But, I didn’t do it to make money. It was more for the principle.

“Although my case was proven, the court still required me to guide it as to how many damages I would expect.

“At hearing, judge ordered me to justify the amount of money he expected to give.

Tripadvisor produces bar graphs that show the number of searches a business had within a given month.

“I used them to prove that there were 2,500 search hits in the month of January. Extrapolating from this, I found that 50% would have read reviews since they all appeared at the top.

“I was asked to guess how many people they would bring in, or have them put off. The judge granted me almost everything I requested.

“I needed to show that reviews were false or malicious. It was relatively easy.

“I found out that he was not married and had no children after he wrote a review claiming he had taken his wife and their children to the hospital.

“With the catfish claim I was able produce all of my fish bills to prove that the fish we served was haddock.

I also ran a credit inquiry on his name, address, and phone number.

It came up with five different names, each with the exact same date of birth. One of them was one of the usernames he had denied. This allowed me to prove my case.

Tripadvisor’s UK spokesperson, who is located in Needham (Massachusetts), said:

Tripadvisor considers fraud a serious matter and employs the latest technology and moderation methods to combat it.

We advise consumers as well as business owners to follow this simple rule: If you notice a review that raises suspicion or violates any of our guidelines please let us know. Our team will review the matter and then take appropriate actions.