A company that sues shoplifters on behalf of retailers has accused a Citizens Advice Bureau official of organising a campaign of harassment against it.
That one raised an eyebrow to say the least. The CAB is hardly an organisation that harasses others. So what, exactly has it been doing, eh?
RLP has accused its critics of trying to damage its business in a “vindictive” campaign.
In particular it has accused a national official of the CAB, Richard Dunstan, of “orchestrating” a three-year long “sustained campaign of harassment and defamation” against it and its staff.
He is the CAB’s policy officer dealing with the civil recovery industry and denies the accusations.
It’s probably fair to say that the CAB has been successful in dealing with this company on behalf of its clients and RLP don’t like it much. It sees criticism as “harassment” indeed it sees such fight-backs as a “sustained campaign”.
To put all of this into perspective, RLP is a parasitic organisation that is much like the ambulance chasers, feeding on the misfortune of others. In this case, retailers who are losing out to thieves and those accused of the theft. Retailers can always use their own lawyers to chase up losses, but instead we have these recovery companies stepping into the breach that isn’t there – a bit like the PPI recovery companies who offer a service that is entirely unnecessary.
Now, instead of doing what they should and going to the police and pressing charges before engaging in civil recovery, these retailers are employing companies such as RLP to pursue them. However, there is a flaw – a gaping great chasm – in their reasoning. In this country, we are innocent of crimes until proven guilty in a court of law. RLP and their clients are not chasing people who have been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, they are chasing people who are alleged to have stolen goods:
Typically letters are sent to the alleged thieves, even if they have not been prosecuted, demanding they pay compensation to the retailers, or face being taken to court.
Alleged is not the same thing as guilty. In other words in law these people are innocent. If the retailer has a case, then go through the proper channels and prosecute… If not, well, too bad, frankly. Blackmail is an ugly word, is it not?
It seems, however that not all has gone well for RLP, as a judgement in April went against them and they would rather people not know about it:
At Oxford County Court in April, two teenage girls were sued by a leading retailer.
The judge ordered that their identities should be kept anonymous.
RLP’s client lost and the judge criticised the legal basis of its case.
And why was this?
RLP had demanded that the girls pay £137.50 towards the costs of the retailer, but the judge dismissed the claim saying the costs had been exaggerated.
An example of such exaggeration is here:
Caroline King, a university student from Bedfordshire, said she was shopping in Boots when she was accused of stealing a lip gloss worth £17.
She denies taking anything but received a demand for £137.50 as compensation for her “wrongful act”.
The demand was issued by Retail Loss Prevention – the biggest civil recovery company in the UK which operates on behalf of such high street names as Boots and Tesco.
The letter threatened court action and said Ms King could also be liable for costs if she did not pay.
Eventually her mother settled by paying the demand because she said her daughter felt anxious and threatened.
There is a word that describes this behaviour…
This, then, is the kind of parasitic organisation we are dealing with – and rightly, the CAB is standing up to them. There is another champion riding to the rescue in the unlikely guise of Denis MacShane:
In a debate in Parliament on Tuesday on the defamation Bill, Denis MacShane MP criticised the recent actions of RLP and Schillings.
He attacked the law firm for ”showering defamation writs” on consumer groups.
Quite right, too. Woah! Hang on a moment there… Roll back a bit…
Schillings? Where have we heard that name before? Ah, right, parasitic company seeks to shut down criticism of its activities by using a law firm with form in this area. Indeed, whenever a nasty organisation or individual wants to shut down legitimate criticism, the excrescent Schillings rises like a steaming turd from the dung heap all ready to serve the writ for a shilling or two for the Gigg. Why am I not surprised?
Jackie Lambert RLP’s MD is claiming that she has received death threats. If so, then that is a matter for the police and those individuals can be pursued as necessary. That is not, however, an excuse to close down reasonable criticism of the company’s activities, which is what is happening:
The law firm’s letters demand that not only should all the defamatory and threatening posts be taken down, but that the websites should reveal to RLP the identities of all the contributors who made the comments.
Nick Spooner of Legal Beagles said: “We are shocked because it appears to us that far from having any genuine complaint about the nature of the comments it appears RLP want to stifle the reporting of the adverse judgement at Oxford County Court because it puts into question their business model.”
“We are refusing to comply with any of their demands,” he added.
Damn right, too. Robust refusal is absolutely the correct response when dealing with bullies trying to stifle free speech. Again, if individuals have broken the law, fine, take the relevant action against those individuals, but this is not what these people want:
Schillings also wrote to BWB, demanding that it take down from its own website its report of the Oxford court case in which it had acted for the two teenage girls.
In other words, they do want to shut down legitimate criticism – why else try to suppress the court judgement? The only response to this is to go Streisand on them – and of course, remind them of the reply given in Arkell v Pressdram (1971).
Jackie Lambert of RLP told the BBC she had now complained to the police about being harassed, and they had taken witness statements from some of her staff.
“This has been going on for three years; I have to protect myself and my staff from threats,” she said.
Indeed. Not to mention the “£15m racket” they have going. Nice little earner, that.
Update: Following the comments from Julia and Maaarrghk! regarding the plight of the retailers – this wasn’t really the gist of this post; freedom of speech was and the attempts by RLP and Schillings to stifle it. However, the CAB do recognise that the retailers have a point regarding losses and the lack of action on the part of the police. They have this to say on the matter:
Citizens Advice does not condone crime of any kind or level, and does not underestimate the cost of retail crime, but in many of the CAB-reported cases, the alleged theft is strongly denied.
The retailers’ threat of civil recovery has deeply unfair consequences and we are surprised that household names are prepared to risk their reputation in this way.
*Citizens Advice believes that if retailers, dissatisfied with the level of governmental action against retail crime, are to take matters into their own hands, they must do so using means that are legitimate and transparently fair.
Our key concern with this practice is its reliance on intimidation, shame and ignorance of the law for its effectiveness. Many of the recipients of civil recovery threats are teenagers and many others have serious mental health problems, or are otherwise especially vulnerable.
Claims by retailers that civil recovery helps to counter the cost of retail crime just don’t add up – the total amount ‘recovered’ by the agents for their retailer clients each year is, we estimate, less than 0.4 per cent of the total that crime costs the retail sector each year. Retailers should work with the Home Office, the Police and other organisations to identify a range of legitimate and transparently fair alternatives to civil recovery which target crime committed by persistent offenders and criminal gangs.
I repeat what I said in the comments regarding this point; two wrongs do not make a right and resorting to extortion with menaces far outweighs the original offence.