CHAPTER 12 – SHELL UK CHAIRMAN DR CHRIS FAY
Within a matter of days, John received a call from the secretary of the then Chairman and Chief Executive of Shell UK Ltd, Dr Chris Fay, to arrange a meeting. Sir John Jennings had clearly honoured his promise to “put his shoulder to the Wheel again”. The meeting took place on 25th May 1995 in surreal circumstances with a uniformed butler serving tea in Fay’s palatial office suite at Shell-Mex House in London.
“Dr” Fay, a tall well-built man with a balding head, has a degree in engineering. He is not a medical doctor. Many other members of Shell senior management including Sir John Jennings had a degree but did not bother to use the “Dr” title. That alone tells something about “Dr” Fay. His opening comment to John was along the lines that “I am absolutely pissed off with your conduct”. Not a remark that you would expect from a Shell Chairman.
Dr Fay said that he had personally interviewed Andrew Lazenby. John asked him what conclusion he had reached about Andrews conduct. Dr Fay responded by saying to the effect “You don’t see him around here anymore do you”. He said that Andrew had been “posted to the desert” (to a Shell post in Omen). It was apparent from his tone that this was the Shell equivalent of being sent to Siberia. Dr Fay confirmed that other parties had made similar allegations against Andrew and that he was concerned at setting a precedent by settling our claim, which would be the case even if he paid £1. It later became evident from discovery documents that Lazenby had indeed treated many other companies in a thoroughly disreputable fashion and that at least one, Senior King, had threatened Shell with legal action.
Dr Fay eventually offered John a “walk-a-way” deal (which John dismissed) whereby the litigation could be withdrawn and each side would be responsible for its own legal costs.
The Make Money settlement was also discussed. Dr Fay said that Shell’s solicitors were negligent in not insisting on an “all claims” clause, which would have prevented us from bringing the Nintendo legal action. He also thought that Shell had paid much too high a sum in settlement.
Dr Fay was clearly under very considerable pressure at the time in respect of the disposal of the Brent Spar oil platform. He spoke about the Brent Spar situation in some detail and indicated that he sometimes wondered if all of the pressure on him was worth putting up with. At times Dr Fay appeared totally fed up and depressed with his lot in life and was treating John like he was his psychoanalyst.
Eventually Dr Fay said that he could not understand how John had sat on the couch for so long without saying how much he wanted from Shell to settle the claim. John said in reply, what was the point, when Dr Fay had stated so bluntly that he would not pay even £1.
The meeting ended on the basis that if John wanted to talk to him over the coming bank holiday weekend to accept the walk-a-way deal, he would instruct his secretary to take his call. John responded by saying that Dr Fay could call him if he had a realistic offer to make. Dr Fay replied that he should not expect any such call. He did have the good grace to walk with my son to the exit of Shell-Mex House. The extraordinary meeting had lasted almost two hours. Shell Legal Director, Richard Wiseman, later informed John that contrary to the assurance that the discussions would be “off-the-record”, Dr Fay had a written record of what had occurred. Wiseman said that John would be highly embarrassed if he knew what Dr Fay had said about him.
John did not know what to make of Dr Fay. He was obviously a very intelligent man of great capability, but an extremely blunt individual. John had received a number of telephone calls from a man who claimed to be Dr Fay’s chauffeur. Whoever it was, they hated Dr Fay. Someone subsequently advised us (a person that we trust) that in fact Dr Fay is a kind and good man. If so, he certainly knows how to conceal his better points when in a negotiating situation.
Since there were no developments during the Bank Holiday truce period, on 31st May 1995, we arrived outside Shell-Mex House at around 10am with a number of our pressure group and family members to continue our protest.
John went inside Shell-Mex House to delivery a letter to Dr Fay. The receptionist said that Dr Fay was waiting to meet John. He then had a brief meeting with Dr Fay and the then General Manager of Shell UK, Mr David Pirret.
Dr Fay said that he could not understand why we had recommenced hostilities even though “he had got on so well with John”. He moaned that John had made him late for the British Gas AGM because he had arrived to commence the protest outside Shell-Mex House later than previously notified. It was agreed that a further meeting would take place at 2.15pm the same afternoon.
When John returned to the pavement outside the building, Neil Denny, a reporter for a trade magazine was waiting to interview him. John put off the interview.
I accompanied John to the 2.15pm meeting at which Mr Pirret was again present (Pirret subsequently became President of Shell Brazil and is currently President of Shell Lubricants, the No. 1 marketer of lubricants in the USA following Shell's acquisition of Pennzoil-Quaker State) . Dr Fay did his best to try to find some common ground. He was obviously not used to dealing with an old geezer like me. He asked whether I had ever participated in sports when I was a young man. Being rather nervous, I said that I used to play marbles. Both gentlemen from Shell looked a little nonplussed. I then turned to David Pirret and commented that despite what I had been told by Shell dealers he did not look like the devil to me – there were no pointy ears. My son and David Pirret were clearly embarrassed but when my nerves are on edge I do tend to say aloud what I am thinking. And believe me my nerves were very much on edge as unbeknown to Shell, our funds were just about exhausted and we were confronted by having to find £5,000 within a matter of days to comply with the initial payment in respect of the Security for Costs Order obtained by Shell. The stakes were very high.
John gave Dr Fay a letter concerning the meeting on 25th May and recording the impression that he had gained about Dr Fay’s assessment of Andrew Lazenby. Dr Fay read the letter and accepted that it accurately reflected what had been discussed.
Dr Fay said that he had a proposal to put to us. With a theatrical flourish he offered us “Money OR Justice” - we could not have both. It had to be one or the other. Dr Fay said that Shell would pay all our legal fees thus far and fund our litigation against them so as to “create a level playing field”. He pledged to the effect that there would be “no smoke or mirrors” and “no hidden agenda”. It appears to be the first time in the history of litigation that such an arrangement has been made whereby a public company has paid in advance of a judicial decision, the fees of the party suing it. It was our turn to be nonplussed. We said that we would opt for justice. The “money” aspect of the offer was never explored. As will become evident in the next chapter, the offer did turn out to be a classic case of “smoke and mirrors”.
Dr Fay was later ousted from Shell probably due in some part to his dealings with us. He is now a director of several companies including the British Airports Authority, where ironically he is Chairman of their Ethics Committee.
Click here for ShellNews.net HOME PAGE