Blackpool businessman was awarded £ 7,455 against online troll who published lies about his restaurant

Martin Stewart Potts of Belmont, near Bolton, has embarked on a campaign of lies against a Bispham business after the owner disputed one of his reviews on the online site.

He had visited Bispham Kitchen on Red Bank Road and then wrote “The owner is looking at you weird”.

But the malicious critic bit more than he could chew as Bispham Kitchen owner Steve Hoddy is a trained lawyer and used his skills to bring Potts to justice.

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Steve Hoddy at the Bispham Kitchen. Mr Hoddy successfully challenged a man who published false reviews about his business and won over £ 7,000 in damages in court

At a hearing in July, Judge Sephton ruled that Potts was guilty of malicious lying and he was ordered to pay compensation to Mr Hoddy.

Potts challenged the ruling, but at a hearing in October, Judge Bird upheld the original ruling.

Potts, of Lower Lodge, Belmont, had written a series of ten malicious reviews between October 23 and November 16, 2018, one of which claimed the food had made him sick with his wife and children.

However, Mr. Hoddy was able to show that this was a lie, as the Belmont man had no wife or children.

Inside the Bispham Kitchen with its distinctive panoramic photograph of Blackpool

Mr Hoddy, who is the general manager of six restaurants and one takeout, said the case shows the serious problems hotel companies face with online reviews that could easily be malicious, bogus or bogus. He added that such criticism can seriously damage a business.

He said: “About three years ago this man decided he was going to troll Bispham Kitchen. He used eight different usernames and said things like ‘the fish was not haddock, it was catfish “, and that it made himself, his wife and sick children;” the fries were fried in burnt oil “.

“He put the first review and he said” the owner looks at you weird when you try to eat your fish and chips, not a great experience. “I don’t normally respond to reviews but I did to this one and the answer was partly humorous.

“I have said that I can assure you that the owner of Bispham Kitchen is the most charming and charming person you could hope to meet and that he wouldn’t dream of looking weirdly at his customers. wave of criticism over the next two weeks.

“The problem was, it was during the week of October 2018 which is our busiest time, probably serving a thousand clients a day.

“It was a whole catalog of bogus reviews. Later he posted reviews on some of my other businesses. But he had made the same spelling mistakes in different reviews, so it was obvious that was the same person.

“With four of the usernames, he’d done a hundred exams of other places, so I was able to piece together a picture of who he was. He knew exactly what he was doing. I tracked him down and I went to confront him.

“I handed him a letter warning him that unless he apologized for the criticism, I would sue him for malicious lying. Unbeknownst to him, I went to law school and I two law degrees, although I do not practice as a lawyer.

“I brought a lawsuit against him in Manchester County Court for malicious lying. These are difficult actions to take, they are complicated and expensive. Most people would not be able to bring this kind of case because they are. complicated and a law firm would charge high fees for this kind of action.

“He initially denied doing the reviews. But when I presented him with compelling evidence, he dribbled in confession, but still resisted the case. The case was brought forward. outside Manchester Crown Court on July 19. I won and received £ 7,455 in damages.

“He did not show up for the hearing and found an excuse for failing a lateral flow test. As a result, he then applied for the judgment to be set aside and this hearing took place some time ago. weeks It was a telephone hearing and the cancellation request was denied.

He said Mr Potts could not prove he passed a lateral flow test and the judge dismissed his appeal.

“This is a big problem. Online trolling is rife and one of the big problems these days. It is becoming a pandemic in and of itself. It is destroying businesses. I have owned Bispham Kitchen for 44 years now and my business is strong enough to withstand this kind of nonsense.

“But especially for hotels, it’s a real problem, because people really take notice of hotel reviews because they spend more money. It’s the bane of modern society.

“Another problem is that you can’t go anywhere with Tripadvisor to get them to reveal the identity of reviewers. One of their terms and conditions is that any dispute with Tripadvisor must be resolved in the Massachusetts court, where they are based, so you would have to go to the United States. “

Mr Hoddy reached out to Tripadvisor to stress that the reviews could not be correct and the website subsequently deleted the comments.

Mr Hoddy had graduated in law with a first class degree from Cambridge and was offered a place at the Inns of Court to compete in the bar finals, but instead chose to go into business in Blackpool .

He said most companies wouldn’t be able to mount a successful malicious lie, but he enjoyed using the knowledge and skills he had learned in college and saw the complex procedure as a challenge.

He explained, “I majored in defamation law but didn’t know anything about county court procedure. So I did some research. I liked doing it, that was what I was trained for. the principle – send a message to those who think they can harm a business or a personal reputation at will.

“Although I could prove my case, I still had to give the court some indication of the amount of damages I expected. At the hearing, the judge made me stand up and justify the amount of damages. money he expected to give. Tripadvisor produced bar charts to show how many search results a particular business had in a month.

“I used them to show that in that month there were 2,500 search results and extrapolating from that 50% would have read the reviews because they were all lined up at the top of the list. had to estimate how many people I would have pushed back or brought in. In the end, the judge gave me roughly what I asked for.

“I had to prove that the criticisms complained of were both false and malicious. I did it quite easily. On the review that said he made him, his wife and children sick, I found that he did not have a wife or children.With the catfish claim I was able to produce all of my fish bills to show that the fish we are serving was haddock.

“I also did a credit search on his address and name. He found five different aliases, all with the same date of birth and one of which was one of the usernames he denied. so I was able to prove my case.

A UK spokesperson for Tripadvisor, based in Needham, Mass., Said: “Tripadvisor takes the problem of fraud very seriously and we use the best human moderation technologies and practices to combat it.

“Our advice to business owners and consumers is simple: If you see a review that raises suspicion or violates any of our guidelines, please report it to us. Our team will then investigate and act accordingly. “

The Blackpool Gazette has made several attempts to contact Mr Potts, but he has not commented on his actions.

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