CONFRONTATION IN THE JUDGES CHAMBERS
As can be deduced from the transcript, the Judge had already backed off considerably in open Court from his initial strong comments when Mr Cox replied with equally strong comments and made his anger plain for all to hear.
Mr Cox said that the Judge would have been “gravely wrong” to make such a Judgement and went so far as to mention the wisdom and foundation in making such a judgement. After being “persuaded” by the vigorous response from the criminal law expert, Mr Cox, the Judge changed his tone from saying that the allegations made by Mr Hobbs had “more than passing strength”, to becoming mere “suspicions”.
As I have already indicated, the fact of the matter was that there was no documentary evidence obtained from Sainsbury’s – no evidence in transit – no motorbike messenger on its way to the Court. The ambush had been a fabrication based on not a single iota of credible evidence despite the fact that Shell’s lawyers had several months to gather and evaluate evidence and obtain expert opinion in advance of the trial. Yet they had nothing concrete to support their allegation. Whereas the accused party and his legal team had been left in complete ignorance of the serious charges that Shell intended to spring in Court and had no proper time to consider the matter or respond properly. It was in my humble opinion a travesty of fair play and justice for the Judge to make such damming comments in open Court under such circumstances.
According to a briefing given to John from a well informed highly reliable source, Geoffrey Cox was so surprised and appalled by the Judges comments that the dramatic exchanges continued in the Judges Chambers. It was apparently unprecedented for a Judge to deliver findings on some issues after a case had been settled mid-trial with only half the witnesses heard and one of the primary witnesses’ still giving evidence.
If the information reported to John is correct, the Judge reversed course even further in the privacy of his Chambers after, among other things said, Mr Cox informed him that he (the Judge) was unaware of the true basis of the settlement. The “soothing words” which the Judge had mentioned had in fact been paid for by Shell, one of the world’s largest most wealthy multinationals whose reputation was obviously of far greater value than ours. Being a commercially-minded individual, my son was prepared to be extremely flexible in what was issued to the press after the trial, provided that the price was right. It was as simple as that. He had not anticipated that the carefully drafted agreed press release would be potentially undermined by the unfortunate comments made by the Judge.
Geoffrey apparently also made it abundantly clear to Mr Justice Laddie that such was their complete faith in their client, that if there had been no settlement and the decision at the conclusion of a full trial had gone against John, he and Lindsay Lane had already agreed that they would take the case to the Appeals Court even though they knew no funds were available to cover their costs. This presumably also shocked the Judge, as barristers are not known for being prepared to work for nothing.
In the face of the information given to him by Mr Cox, the Judge apparently confided that the Clerk to the Court, Mr Peter Smith, who was present in Court throughout the trial, had formed a different view to the Judge about Lazenbys evidence.
The Judges comments in Court were also obviously a strikingly different evaluation of Mr Lazenbys integrity from that reached by two independent mediators (both senior lawyers) who had personally interviewed Lazenby at length concerning the earlier legal actions. They memorably concluded that Mr Lazenby had “pissed on Don Marketing from a very great height”. Unfortunately there was no focus on the previous cases during the trial.
The Judges comments seemed extremely one sided until Mr Cox mounted a strong objection to some of the remarks. For example the inordinate length of time that poor Mr Lazenby had to endure under a severe cross-examination. Yet no mention until Mr Cox got hot under the collar of the equally long and even more severe pressure applied to John during his cross-examination. And no mention either of the carefully contrived deceit perpetrated on John by Mr Hobbs – the fabricated motorbike messenger of doom.
John got the blame for the line of questioning taken by his legal team but the truth was that he accepted without question the advice given by them in every respect about how his case should be prosecuted. Indeed it is difficult to see how the case could have proceeded without the key questions and evidence being put to the key witnesses. Besides this his lawyers had trial experience and he had none. Furthermore, as Mr Cox pointed out to the Judge in Court, the allegations made to Mr Lazenby in Court were in his judgement “with foundation”. From the transcript it looks as if Mr Cox had probably intended to go on to say that the Judges comments were without foundation, but instead decided that it would be more prudent to say that “the remarks your Lordship has made are, if I may say so, they are ones which I wish your Lordship had not made”.
Despite all of the justifiable respect and high status, Judges are only human and when confronted by two non-compatible accounts have to come down on one side or the other. If there was no bias, inadvertent or otherwise, then I must assume that Mr Justice Laddie simply preferred the version given by Mr Lazenby.
I was however surprised (as previously indicated) that the Judge excused Mr Lazenbys appalling behaviour in deliberately deceiving and cheating companies who thought they were participating in an honest tender process. In this connection, Mr Justice Laddie praised Lazenby saying that he had put Shells “commercial interests before the interests of outside firms”. The Judge is obviously much more qualified than I to make comments about the legal aspect of Lazenbys conduct in dealing with outside companies, but there is no way that his premeditated actions as confirmed in Shell’s own documents, complied with the strictures of honesty, integrity and openness demanded of Shell employees in Shells Statement of General Business Principles. What he did may have been legal but it was not honest, truthful or open. It was the opposite.
No wonder that Lazenby is apparently long gone from Shell despite the eulogy in the Judges Comments, presumably designed to save him from his self-inflicted fate.
Having read the content and being mindful of Wiseman’s initial eagerness to supply the Judges Comments to a third party company, John realised that Shell probably circulated information about the Judges Comments to other parties after the trial. This was put repeatedly to Richard Wiseman who did not deny that this was indeed the case. It amounted to a further flagrant breach of the deed which was supposed to put an end to the acrimony once and for all. Shell did of course already have a track record of issuing derogatory comments about us to its staff, as per the press releases and the notices displayed at the Shell Centre on one occasion and the letter distributed to Shell staff on 14th April 1998.
ADMISSIONS OF LIABILITY
I wonder if in making the absolution conferred on Mr Lazenby, Mr Justice Laddie took into account that Shell had already admitted liability for wrongdoing involving Lazenby. On 14th June 1996, John and his solicitor, Richard Woodman, had a meeting at Shell-Mex House with Richard Wiseman and Shell UK Senior Legal Advisor, Ian Brown. Mr Brown acknowledged during the meeting that the claim made by Don Marketing in respect of the Make Money promotion was justified and Shell had settled immediately they had realised that this was the case. A record of the relevant admission was mailed to Mr Wiseman after the meeting.
Furthermore, the solicitors acting for Shell UK at the time of the Make Money claim, Mackrell Turner Garrett, made a written admission in a “Statement of Case” submitted to the mediators of the “Nintendo” and “Now Showing” claims in October 1996 – see Chapter 14 - Mediation. The last sentence of the third paragraph of page 2, stated: “Shell recognised that Don had perfect rights to claim sums due in respect of Make Money, and the agreed sum was paid within a matters of days of proceedings being issued”. The unsolicited letter of apology received by John from Shell UK Chairman and Chief Executive, Dr Chris Fay, also appears to have been completely disregarded by the Judge. I can only surmise that the Judge was not aware of these existing admissions of liability.
I would stress again a point made earlier; Shell had for several years before the SMART litigation alleged that our previous claims against them were false. In a Press Release issued by Shell UK Ltd on 17th March 1995, Shell alleged that we were hoping Shell would be “coerced into settling false claims”. I sued Shell for libel in respect of that allegation and Shell paid us a very substantial sum partly on the basis of withdrawing the defamation action. In addition, they subsequently settled the relevant claims for £200,000. Shell also admitted liability in the terms indicated above. Their Chairman, Dr Fay, even gave John the unsolicited official written apology. In other words, Shell had a track record of trying to deliberately undermine the credibility of our claims against them by falsely accusing us of making fraudulent claims, without ever having any evidence to support their unfounded allegations. There is incontrovertible evidence of this policy. Not one word about this came up in court.
What a bizarre conclusion to the trial:
The Judge made known his finding on a central issue which neither the Plaintiff nor Defendants were then seeking a pronouncement after heeding his constructive pleas for the case to be settled between the parties.
It was an uncalled for finding which effectively cleared Lazenby of any wrongdoing despite the fact that: -
(a) The defendant company had already admitted that Lazenby had acted wrongly in respect of the earlier legal actions.
(b) The defendant company had already paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages and legal costs because of his wrongdoing.
(c) Mr Justice Laddie had not even heard the evidence in respect of the previous claims settled by Shell, yet bizarrely appeared to have also given Mr Lazenby absolution in those cases. He actually said “I hope that he leaves this Court not just with his reputation intact but enhanced”.
The astonishing findings were made although the Judge was unaware of the true basis of the settlement. In other words, the settlement documents which he had sanctioned did not disclose the full details of the deal insisted upon by my son.
No one apparently thought it important to fully brief the Judge in advance of what was supposed to have been a rubber stamp process to dispose of the case. I suppose that no one thought that he would decide to make the comments which he did. No wonder that even Mr Hobbs for once seemed rather lost for words by the Judges expected comments.
In my humble opinion the Judges Comments were under all the circumstances unfair and inappropriate. Some readers may have concluded that I am being rather naive in assuming (as I do) that the Judge’s noticeably one-sided comments were not influenced by bias. Suspicions about a potential conflict of interest are unlikely to be erased in some readers’ minds simply because neither the Judge nor Tom Moody-Stuart took up my invitation to confirm that there was no connection between them.
My own conclusion: Give me 12 men good and true. To put it in a modern context, I would opt every time for a trial by jury consisting of a cross section of the public, rather than just one lawyer/Judge/human-being deciding a case. Unfortunately lawyers often seem swayed by legal technicalities rather than relying on plain commonsense. If a jury had seen the documentary evidence of Lazenbys conduct in respect of the Make Money game and other disreputable arrogant manoeuvres on his part, including his disgraceful handling of the tendering process for Shell SMART, I believe they would have reached an entirely different conclusion to Mr Justice Laddie about his character. I would bet my life on that.
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