We’re hiring!

We are looking for a Social Media/PR Account Manager.

This new position has arisen due to an expanding workload and is a great opportunity for a candidate who wants to specialise in media relations around legal issues whilst utilising their well-honed social media skills for the benefit of the agency itself as well as our clients.

Download job description

A CV and cover letter outlining reasons for your application should be sent to:
Melanie Riley, at the address found in the job description or to melanie@bell-yard.com.
Deadline Friday 15 Oct 2021.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Hagens Berman UK

Former Head of Volvo European Litigation, Kelda Groves, Joins Hagens Berman UK LLP

September 6, 2021 LONDON – Kelda Groves, former head of European litigation at Volvo Group, has joined the partnership of Hagens Berman UK, the London firm of globally renowned US class-action law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

Kelda will lead the UK firm’s competition and group litigation practice and manage Hagens Berman UK’s litigation against Mercedes regarding its use of illegal emission control defeat devices which harm consumers and the environment. 

Prior to joining Hagens Berman UK, Kelda led and managed Volvo Group’s European litigations, including one of the largest pieces of antitrust litigation in Europe, the Trucks Litigation, in which the European Commission fined MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF for breaching EU antitrust rules by running a price-fixing cartel for medium-sized and heavy trucks. During her more than three years at Volvo, Kelda addressed claims in over 15 countries and collective actions in the UK, Netherlands and Germany. Kelda has a proven track record in corporates, investment banks and global law firms, with extensive financial services experience from her more than 10 years at HSBC, as head of complaints and investigations, and at Credit Suisse, managing the European litigation portfolio.

Kelda will be based out of Hagens Berman UK’s London office, enlarging its robust Mercedes litigation team, which has expanded its size to more than a dozen as the case against Mercedes intensifies. The firm is the sole UK firm to have issued a claim against Mercedes and is leading the effort for those in England and Wales who were harmed by the automaker’s emissions-cheating scandal affecting its diesel vehicles sold and leased both to individuals and businesses. Hagens Berman has so far onboarded more than 9,000 clients who have been verified as owners of affected vehicles and who are able to claim compensation and continues to convert interested parties into fully registered clients.

“Kelda’s unique experience fits ideally with our firm’s objective to bring the best resources to bear for those impacted by corporate malfeasance,” said Steve Berman, Hagens Berman’s managing partner. “Her experience in group litigation on the defendant side of litigation provides insights into defence tactics and further positions Hagens Berman UK as a stand-out claimant firm in the UK, especially for those harmed by Mercedes’ diesel scandal.”

Kelda said, “As opportunities for consumer redress open in the United Kingdom and Europe, I am very excited to join a firm with such a leading reputation for winning compensation and justice for consumers.” 

“Kelda brings to Hagens Berman UK an impressive track record of leading litigation teams and managing teams to success,” said Hagens Berman UK co-managing director and partner, Michael Gallagher. “We are delighted to welcome Kelda to the team and for us and our clients to benefit from her experience and advocacy. The skillset she brings is a perfect cultural and strategic fit.”

Hagens Berman UK is headquartered in London and focuses its practice on competition and group litigation, as well as investor fraud. The firm expands the global reach of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP with offices in Seattle, Berkeley, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and San Diego.

Ends

Media Contacts

Bell Yard Communications: +44 207 936 2021 / BellYard@bell-yard.com  

Louise Beeson: + 44 7768 956997 / louise@bell-yard.com  

Kelda Groves, Steve Berman and Michael J. Gallagher Jr. are available for interviews and can be reached at heidiw@hbsslaw.co.uk  

Notes to Editors

About Hagens Berman

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm operating in 10 cities worldwide. Hagens Berman UK LLP is headquartered in London. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at hbsslaw.com and hbsslaw.co.uk. Follow Hagens Berman for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw

Hagens Berman Media Contact

Heidi Waggoner

pr@hbsslaw.co.uk / heidiw@hsbsslaw.co.uk

+1-206-268-9318

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Antonio Horta-Osorio’s First 100 Days

Victims of $1bn Credit Suisse fraud make open offer to new Chairman

London: Sunday 8 August marks 100 days since Antonio Horta-Osorio became Chairman of what was once Switzerland’s most venerated banking giant – Credit Suisse.  

  • To five former clients of CS’ Wealth Management Division, that’s $10m per day of his tenure they’ve lost to fraud at the hands of the bank, due to failings of managerial oversight of Patrice Lescaudron and his colleagues;
  • To shareholders, that’s a further $5.5m per day of his tenure lost to Archegos’ default due to failings of managerial oversight and a lackadaisical attitude to risk; 
  • To investors that’s an additional $2.3m per day of his tenure of exposure to the Greensill supply chain financing failure and one pan-European/Asian class action;
  • To creditors of Mozambique’s tuna bonds that’s 1 High Court trial and $6.2m per day of his tenure of unaccounted for loans at the hands of 3 corrupt Credit Suisse employees and poor management oversight;
  • To staff that’s 2400 hours of declining morale and no doubt disappointment in the Board’s handling of mounting crises;
  • To shareholders that’s 27% of 2021 with a flat-lining share price while competitors rally.

Like his fire-fighting time at Lloyds beforehand, Horta-Osorio will be finding life at Credit Suisse just as incendiary.  

However, representatives of the five victims of Credit Suisse’ fraud, investment mismanagement, and failed compliance controls are offering to meet the Chairman to help him finally extinguish the smouldering wreck of fraudulent activity at the bank, to allow Horta-Osorio to focus on the clean-up of legacy issues required of his position.  This Chairman has been unafraid to take remedial action in his previous role – the CS victims now anticipate a similarly decisive approach.

Charlie Wigan, spokesperson for the Credit Suisse victims says:

“If anyone can take command – by getting Credit Suisse to face up to, and act on, its wide-reaching failings brought to light over the past few years through regulatory reports, internal inquiries, criminal investigations and multi-jurisdictional claims – I have faith that this Chairman can. 

“Certain Board members are under increasing pressure for the part they played in the group’s neglectful attitude to risk and compliance. In order to draw a line under past wrongdoing and to give optimism to those stakeholders invested in the bank’s future, Horta-Osorio will need to tackle legacy risk issues and make good the significant losses suffered by influential international investors without further delay. This matter represents yet another significant litigation drain on the bank’s resources and will blight the Chairman’s tenure until it is resolved.”

ENDS   

For further information, please contact:

Bell Yard Communications                                      Tel: +44 20 7936 2021

Melanie Riley    BellYard@bell-yard.com             Tel: +44 77755 91244

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Company Entering Administration

Bell Yard assisted the Directors of a traditional UK publishing company, based in the south of England, when they were forced to make the difficult decision to enter into administration.

Strict company and employment law requirements drove the communications process requiring timely and explanatory messaging to staff and affected customers.

Bell Yard helped shape the context messages for internal and external use. There was a core script adjusted for each of the different audiences affected.

With little preparation time to spare, announcement day brought a tight roll-out timetable of communications – with unions, staff, customers as well as local and trade media.

Following court approval, the administrator took over the reins of the business and responsibility for all communications on the company’s final wind-down strategy and implementation. However with Bell Yard’s support, the Directors could comfort themselves that they had presented sad news in as efficient and sensitive a way as possible in the circumstances, with all parties ultimately respecting that there was nothing further that could have been done to prevent the end of a printing era in this technological age.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Billing issue

Bell Yard advised a UK chambers on its client, internal and potential media engagement following the discovery of limited fee discrepancies. The matter was resolved without public scrutiny given the swift remedial action taken and appropriation communication provided.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Employment dispute

Bell Yard advised a UK set on the preparation of appropriate reactive public engagement, drafting internal and potential external communications arising from an employment-related dispute, which ultimately was resolved without unwelcome media exposure.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Separating personal from professional

Bell Yard’s advice was sought in respect of handling media enquiries into the extra-curricular activities of a member of Chambers, with a mandate to minimise exposure of the Set in this regard. While the media reported the conduct, by and large journalists divorced the personal from the professional and agreed it was unnecessary to embroil Chambers in the stories.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Global 100 Law Firm

Bell Yard provided public relations support to an international law firm with offices in London, Europe and the Middle East.

Our brief was to help shift perceptions of the firm as solely a US energy specialist to a leading international law firm with broad expertise in the energy and technology sectors, in line with the firm’s strategic focus.

By collaborating with the firm’s marketing & communication team and local lawyers Bell Yard developed insightful, thought-provoking and timely partner commentary on newsworthy topics, generating coverage in media such as Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and The Times, in addition to specialist sector media.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Global 50 Law Firm

Providing PR support to the London branch of a global 50 US law firm for its UK white collar defence and investigations practice. Bell Yard executed a series of PR opportunities aimed at raising the profiles of the practices’ counsel members through a series of commentary opportunities, reactionary media statements and journalist meetings with key media outlets. As a result of Bell Yard’s PR strategy, our client is now considered to be the go-to firm for commentary on white collar crime issues and is often quoted extensively in Financial Times, Bloomberg, The Times Law as well as sector-specific publications.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Top 100 Litigation Firm

Bell Yard provides profile-raising PR support to a UK Top 100 law firm with a strong private client practice and established reputation for its criminal law expertise.  It is often involved in high profile client mandates and its experts are keen for visibility across leading business, City and consumer media outlets from the BBC to The Guardian to Spears and Stylist magazine.

Our brief is to ensure platform opportunities on relevant topical issues, whether by tapping into the news agenda or by setting it. Bell Yard has supported this client for several years and, as a result, we are very familiar with the key people and their thinking, ensuring close synergy between the business and PR objectives.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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White-Shoe Law Firm

Bell Yard provided PR support on behalf of a global 50 US law firm to manage its London launch and to develop a campaign to support the office’s strategic expansion plans. 

Following a sustained thought leadership campaign, which has seen partners quoted on regulatory, tax, real estate funds and private equity issues in leading international, national and trade media, and backed up by a steady flow of corporate and transactional announcements, our client is recognised as the go-to firm in its sectors.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Eclipse film partnerships

Bell Yard was appointed by law firm, Edwin Coe, to raise awareness of a potential investor group action over the now disgraced Eclipse Partnerships film finance fund series. 

Edwin Coe led a group action for approximately 100 investors in the Eclipse Film Partnerships which were marketed as creative tax relief schemes.

Investors included professionals, footballers, sports managers and celebrities including, according to media reports, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sir Alex Ferguson.

In 2012, the HMRC Tax Tribunals ruled that these partnerships were aggressive tax avoidance schemes, a decision that was corroborated in April 2016 by the Supreme Court, which agreed with the Court of Appeal’s February 2015 decision that Eclipse 35 was not a bona fide trading business and therefore was not entitled to tax relief. This left investors facing huge tax bills and legal fees as HMRC issued tax demands. 

Our client’s objective was build out the number of investors in their litigation group before launching a letter to target respondent parties (primarily the lending banks). 

Bell Yard assisted this objective by drafting a press release which announced our client’s intentions to launch a group action within a certain timeframe, which acted as the clarion call for more investors, trumpeting the benefits of Therium funding (meaning there were reduced litigation risks and costs to individuals who sign up). 

As a result, our client’s group action was widely publicised, with stories published in the Mail on Sunday, CityAM, The Telegraph and in the financial trade press.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Retailer Data Breach

A popular online retailer fell victim to a hack involving the theft of its customers’ data. The breach occurred at a particularly sensitive time, coming as it did in the wake of TalkTalk’s crisis.

Bell Yard had been called in by the client’s lawyers to assist in preparing media responses in anticipation of journalist enquiries.  However, the company itself did not call on our assistance for preparation until after a call had been received by the BBC, who had learned of the breach through an affected customer.

Bell Yard swiftly ascertained as much of the detail as possible within 2 hours of being instructed. We then prepped the CEO to be interviewed, allowing him to articulate the detail that was known and that which could not yet be known, as well as to provide the reassurance that all that could be done was being done, providing context to the situation.   Crafting the correct narrative from the outset set the tone for future reporting. Bell Yard also drafted the customer notification correspondence plus a series of FAQs for the client’s website.  Together with the legal team, we ensured the public messaging reflected the facts self-reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A further part of Bell Yard’s engagement was to advise on optimal social media responses to answer concerned customers, to recommend steps to help re-establish reputation and minimise future trading disruption.

A critical element was the close involvement of the CEO and, given the nature of the business, as an online only retailer, rapid and relevant social media responses proved essential, affording customers the swift reassurance they were seeking.  Taken together, these aspects helped prevent national press escalation.

Post-crisis, Bell Yard recommended ways to help the company restore its reputation. The close involvement of senior management in decision–making, including public and customer communications, helped ensure responses were rapid and realistic so minimising potential escalation of the issue.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Timeshare Exchange Company: RCI Europe

Law firm Edwin Coe LLP, acting for a 500 strong consumer group bringing a multi-million pound class action lawsuit against timeshare exchange company RCI Europe, asked Bell Yard to maximise publicity for the case in advance of its High Court hearing.

Working with some of the test claimants’ stories and the claim documentation, we were able to secure coverage in The FT, The Times, Money Mail (personal finance section of the Daily Mail), and several trade publications such as Travel Weekly, Estates Gazette and Hospitality.Net. Bell Yard also secured airing of the issue on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, requiring RCI to engage.

The claimants alleged breach of contract by RCI Europe due to its practice of “skimming off” premium timeshare properties from the exchange pool for profit. As a result of which, claimants said they were rarely, if at all, able to exchange their right to their property, for an alternative property of the same ‘value’ which significantly reduced the attraction to them of holding a timeshare and ran contrary to what they were told when being enticed at the sales stage.

The publicity generated in this case helped expose RCI’s modus operandi in the opaque world of timeshare exchange and potentially reached many more frustrated holiday makers who might be owed rightful compensation. Although the judgment handed down in October 2016 found RCI was in breach of contract and had misled its members, the test claimants were not found to have proved individual loss. Edwin Coe is therefore considering an appeal on this issue.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Fashion Retailer Copyright Dispute

Bell Yard was hired by a European retailer to expose its copyright dispute with a UK online fashion retailer intent on expanding into the European’s home market. Our client saw the potential for customer confusion, owing to the written and oral similarities of its brand name, and mounted a full legal challenge in Europe.

Bell Yard prepared a series of storylines to garner media attention and carefully identified media targets. The aim was to fire a warning-shot across the bows of the UK retailer’s management, rather than to alert consumers to the legal dispute. We moved to unveil the dispute around the UK company’s financial results, in an attempt to hijack the headlines the retailer would be attracting at that time. The FT led with the story and follow-up items subsequently appeared in a number of UK national press. The dispute was also covered by retail trade publications (such as Drapers) and the marketing trade media. Naturally, news outlets chose to include photography of the UK retailer’s models on catwalks to accompany the story, which helped maximize the page space the dispute received.

Bell Yard was also hired by a consulting firm to assist during its intellectual property dispute with a competitor for alleged unlawful theft of its data. Our client had clear evidence to support its claim and was determined to protect its IP from illegitimate use, given its hard-earned and longstanding reputation.

The company decided to alert its employees to the legal action, to ensure uniformity of message should clients enquire about the case. Bell Yard provided messaging support and tactical communications advice until the matter was resolved. Ultimately our client was vindicated by the settlement of the copyright infringement claim and made a strong statement to that effect on its website. All further commentary on the matter was closed down, so as to extinguish the spotlight.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

National brewery

Bell Yard advised a company on the management of its reputation in the hospitality sector over various reputational issues that have occasionally arisen in respect of its portfolio of businesses. These issues ranged from allegations of disability discrimination against a customer with mental health difficulties which spread widely across social media, causing pick up in local and national media, to concerns raised about zero hours contracts in the hospitality and leisure industry and race discrimination in respect of a group from the travelling community. 

Throughout the management has worked quickly and effectively with Bell Yard to establish the root cause of the issue, the factual basis and to begin the engagement process not only with the complainant, but also through social and traditional media channels as well as with other interested parties such as the local MP, pressure groups etc. The swift, yet thoughtful, action taken by the group’s management with support from Bell Yard has always ensured the issues have been short-lived, without damaging the hard-earned and well-deserved positive reputation of the business.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Truck Pricing Cartel

Bell Yard was instructed by law firm Edwin Coe to secure press coverage to help develop a group of claimants for its truck price-fixing cartel litigation. Edwin Coe filed a group action in November 2018 on behalf of businesses that were seeking damages for fraudulent price-fixing by five major truck manufacturers over a 14-year period, including MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler/Mercedes, Iveco and DAF. It is estimated that some 10 million trucks were sold across the EU during the 1997-2011 period and that each one may have been overpriced by up to £10,000 as a result of the price-fixing cartel.

Bell Yard’s role was to generate press coverage about the filing in order to encourage further businesses to sign up, thereby expanding the claimant class. We drafted and issued a press release to announce the launch of the class action and explained the basis for the action, targeting specialist trade media in the retail, building and construction, logistics, farming and haulage industries as well as national and legal press. The task also involved explaining how Edwin Coe’s group action was distinct from four separate actions which had previously been filed.

We secured 15 hits in specialist press, 4 hits in legal press and an article in the national media.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

International Commodities Company

An international commodities company had successfully sued a trader for breach of contract in failing to pay $26m for cargo received. It had since tried to secure payment using the judgment without success and so turned to Bell Yard for assistance in highlighting its plight to assist in its enforcement efforts.

We worked with the legal team to publicise the worldwide freezing order (WFO) against the high-profile trader and, unusually, a warrant for his arrest from the UK High Court.

We briefed Reuters and the WSJ, both as outlets that had a potential impact on the errant trader’s business relationships. We used creative media angles – highlighting the trader’s familial ties with discredited individuals. In the end, it was the media coverage that brought the party to the table and settlement was achieved.

Our client was satisfied that timely media engagement in support of the legal process created the conditions to resolve the issue.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Hollywood Royalties

Bell Yard designed the litigation PR strategy and is managing three media teams in support of a $400m lawsuit brought in Los Angeles, California, against a European rights-owning media giant, across key jurisdictions: UK, USA & France. The claim was filed by the three members of fictitious English band “Spinal Tap” and their collaborating partner, for breach of contract over non-payment of royalties over a beloved classic mockumentary film “This is Spinal Tap”, released over three decades ago.

The Vivendi group, the current rights owner, claim the creative work has made its co-creators a mere US$81 (between them) in merchandise sales and a paltry US$98 (again, to be divided by the four) in global music sales – in some 34 years – despite the film’s continued popularity. The claim also centres on alleged fraudulent misrepresentation and concealment and seeks declaratory relief in respect of abandoned trademarks and copyright reversion.

Bell Yard’s PR team combines seamlessly both with the claimant’s IP lawyer and with the trial attorney and his team to ensure public attention is focused on the accounting practices deployed by Vivendi and its subsidiaries.

Due to the growing support of artists groups following the media coverage of this dispute, we created a dedicated website (https://www.fairnessrocks.com/) which supports other artists who find themselves in a similar position. The website is a repository of information on the whole issue of copyright and talent contracts for future creative artists, so they may not to be similarly denied the rewards of their creativity in future.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Privacy Action

Bell Yard was instructed to assist a woman whose reputation had been besmirched during the cross-fire of a privacy action brought by a premiership footballer against a national newspaper.

A court judgment upheld a temporary injunction preventing the woman (as co-defendant) and a newspaper group from naming the player with whom the woman had been having a relationship. This initially resulted in a wave of unwelcome publicity for the woman involved and yet total secrecy for the man. To make matters worse, the judge had used some particularly pejorative language against the woman, and criticised her motivation – yet she had no concurrent recourse in law to address the incorrect picture of her that he had painted.

Bell Yard advised her to give her reaction to the injunction ruling by means of a statement on the court steps. We drafted its wording. The existence of the injunction and her comments explaining the inherent unfairness were widely reported in the next day’s tabloids. Thanks to a proliferation of social media speculation and the naming of the footballer in the Commons by an MP claiming parliamentary privilege, the injunction was soon widely breached, although it technically remained in force.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Michael Jackson v Granada Media Group

Michael Jackson* & MJJ Productions* – v – Granada Media Group Limited.

Instructed the morning after Martin Bashir’s documentary ‘Living with Michael Jackson’ was aired in the UK, Bell Yard set to work devising and implementing a robust rebuttal strategy to overturn the initially hostile global media coverage.

Using MJJ Productions’ own footage of Bashir interviewing Jackson, we focused media attention on the betrayal Jackson felt at the hands of Bashir. Working closely with Jackson’s UK & US legal teams, Bell Yard led the global media handling of Jackson’s claim for injunctive relief and damages from Granada.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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U.S. copyrights dispute

Bell Yard has assisted members of an iconic British band from the 80s, seeking to take advantage of US statute which allows for the revision of US copyrights after 35 years. The tracks affected appear on each of their first 3 albums, plus of their Bond title theme, the only such title theme that reached No1 in the singles charts. 

The songwriters were challenged in the English High Court by the global rights holder which claimed their UK contracts prohibit the return to the creators of their US copyrights, notwithstanding the automatic right of creators in the US to reclaim ownership. Given the songwriters’ prominence, there was media interest in this case reaching from The Daily Mail to Music Week. Bell Yard helped manage the messaging and songwriters’ responses to the media interest as the claim was rejected by the court. An appeal is being considered.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

SRA Investigations

Bell Yard has assisted several law firms whose lawyers have been subject to investigation by the SRA. This is a public process where client, reputational and internal stakeholder considerations interplay and each requires sensitive handling throughout the various stages of investigation, and where necessary, during Disciplinary Tribunal hearings.

Bell Yard assists by recommending suitable wording for statements and handle media enquiries on law firms’ behalf during such times of intense media interest. We are also adept at hand-holding lawyers under investigation, advising on what to say to whom and at what juncture to protect individual reputations and limit personal reputational damage as far as possible.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Sex Discrimination

Bell Yard was appointed by a leading international law firm to advise on communications around its dispute with a female partner at the firm.

The partner in question had made whistleblowing allegations as well as allegations of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against the firm and issued a high profile claim attracting media attention.

The case had all the ingredients the media loves to report – namely a senior woman raising concerns about the management of operations and alleging the decision to terminate her employment related to her pregnancy. The case was also legally interesting – seeking to clarify the status of a worker under employment legislation and whether a partner was entitled to protection under whistleblowing laws. On top of this her legal advisers were well known for proactively engaging with the media on their client cases.

Bell Yard advised the law firm management and marketing team on its communications, specifically on detailed internal / media / client scripts for the matter — firstly around the complainant’s removal from the partnership, then for the initial High Court hearing about the worker component of the case, and later when this went to the Supreme Court. The strategy was to be robust and not cower at headlines designed to exert pressure. However, such was the interest in the legal issues at play, the matter grew in significance and therefore visibility. In the end an agreement was reach between the claimant and the firm prior to the employment tribunal set to hear the claim in full. Once again Bell Yard advised on the firm’s positioning.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Divorce

Advised the husband during high-profile family court proceedings involving allegations of unlawful use of private and confidential information during financial remedy proceedings.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Inheritance Dispute

Bell Yard was instructed by a retained law firm client to publicise a High Court judgment which ruled in favour of its client, whereby a sibling challenged the contents of his parents’ will which had favoured the youngest child. Inheritance disputes are always emotionally charged and therefore require particularly sensitive handling.

On the mother’s passing in 2014 (the father had died in 2009), the family home was left to the youngest son, together with a cash sum equivalent to the nil band rate.

The elder sibling brought a claim challenging his mother’s will in early 2017, alleging that his mother could not read English, as she predominantly read and spoke Hindi, and therefore, she would not have been able to read or understand the English will.

The elder sibling also alleged there was “dominance” of the mother by the father, claiming the will was drafted at his direction, with little or no involvement from his mother.

However, the judge concluded that the elder sibling had failed to establish any suspicious circumstances surrounding the legitimacy of the will and therefore threw out the claim.

Bell Yard publicised the outcome in the Asian press, highlighting the successful defence by its client, as well as shedding light on the judgment’s significance – namely that ‘want of knowledge and approval’ claims are sometimes seen by claimants as an easier route to challenging a will than on other grounds. However, this case demonstrated the opposite.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Coroner’s Inquest

Bell Yard was instructed to assist the widow of a gentleman killed following a motorway incident.

The widow was deeply concerned by partial reports of evidence from the coroner’s inquest. We assisted our client by providing her with an opportunity to be heard publicly to ensure a fairer portrayal of her husband’s character as a devoted partner and father, and the circumstances that lead to the tragedy that befell him, for the sake of their young child’s memory.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Westminster Bridge Inquest

Bell Yard was instructed by a retained client to provide PR support to the family of a police officer killed in a terrorist attack while on duty at the Houses of Parliament. Bell Yard publicised the family’s concerns over the conduct of the Coroner’s Inquest and the Met Police’s engagement with the Inquest.

Bell Yard provided sensitive and diligent PR support to the family throughout the course of the Inquest, working with them prior to the Inquest to determine the key messages to communicate to the media. Bell Yard worked with the family to decide on the most appropriate publication to brief, to ensure their desired aims were met, whilst protecting them from the demands of an unsurprisingly keen press pack, curious as to the family’s sentiments on the matter. We secured an interview with senior reporters at The Times leading to a front-page and subsequent articles carrying the family’s story.

Bell Yard also liaised with the Sun on Sunday (SoS) over its campaign to honour the fallen hero with a permanent memorial in Westminster. Bell Yard provided the family with insight on the SoS’s plans, secured a copy of the Metropolitan Police’s statement (which the Met had insensitively failed to provide to the family in advance) and drafted a quote on behalf of the family which was then published in the SoS.

Throughout the Inquest, Bell Yard managed media requests from both print and broadcast media, the latter including Sky News, BBC News and Channel 4, who sought interviews with the family. An intensely private family, each interview request was considered in detail and opportunities for comment purposefully limited to meet the desired aim of protecting their privacy but limiting exposure to allow them the utmost discretion possible in these circumstances.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Foreign Embassy

Bell Yard advised the UK Embassy of a foreign government on the reputational impact of a UK litigation. During and in the aftermath of the hearing Bell Yard actively engaged with UK and international media to ensure accuracy of reporting and to ensure the Embassy’s messaging was properly disseminated.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Article 50 challenge

The biggest question at the start of Theresa May’s management of the Brexit process, was whether she was entitled to trigger Article 50 (the notice of the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU) without Parliament’s authorisation.

It was not only Gina Miller who issued Judicial Review proceedings challenging the Prime Minister’s sole right to do so, but also, two other claimants, including Mr Dos Santos, who was represented by Bell Yard’s client David Greene (senior partner at Edwin Coe LLP).

Our brief was to ensure Gina Miller’s arguments were not the only ones to dominate the airwaves and print media during the run up to the pivotal High Court hearing in October 2016 and subsequently when the decision was handed down on this issue of national importance. The same applied when the case went to the Supreme Court in December of the same year.

Our client, David Greene argued proper process should be followed in the triggering of Article 50. The by-passing of Parliament would be undemocratic and against the rule of law.

When the High Court agreed with the applicants, he called this “a victory for Parliament democracy over the feudal institution of Royal Prerogative”, continuing “Today some of England’s most senior judges have ruled that Parliament must be involved in this critical decision for the nation. It shows political leaders are not above the law and that Brexit must follow due process.”

The coverage achieved at this first stage ran to some 80-pages, including quotes in The Sun, The Mail and the Financial Times through to papers all around the world from Hawaii to Bury St Edmonds and on SKY and CNN online. The fact David was the first lawyer to make a statement on the High Court steps welcoming the judgment, helped ensure high-profile coverage throughout the day on the BBC amongst other outlets.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the claimants’ position and David Greene then made a further statement welcoming the judgment and the determination made “purely on the legal issues” against such a politically charged backdrop. Once again his quotes were carried by almost all national media from the FT to Metro.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Carole Caplin v Daily Mail

Bell Yard was instructed by the health and fitness coach, Carole Caplin, on the occasion of her settlement with the Daily Mail over a seriously defamatory article written about her in September 2010 concerning former clients ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Booth.

Bell Yard worked with Carole’s advisors to draft her out-of-court media statement. We provided the narrative that explained why, after not fighting to clear her name following numerous inaccurate, unfair and damaging press mentions over the past 17 years, she decided the time had come to take a stand.

We obtained maximum publicity for the Mail’s retraction, securing a number of high profile broadcast interview opportunities on the BBC (both TV and radio) as well as ITV News. (The broadcast clips were syndicated with 69 separate airings). Bell Yard also achieved wide press acknowledgement of the settlement of her defamation action including an in-depth interview in Evening Standard. During the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, the former Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman Alistair Campbell apologised to Carole for falsely accusing her of leaking stories to the media years earlier. The reports of his apology also referenced the recent Daily Mail apology and settlement.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Ecoli Outbreak

Advised family butcher during HSE investigation following ecoli outbreak.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Racial Discrimination

Bell Yard advised a former senior executive at a medical device company who was suing his former employer for unfair dismissal, breach of contract and racial and sexual orientation discrimination.

Our client alleged he was dismissed from his role for raising awareness of the security flaws that bugged the medical device app and Facebook site. He began legal proceedings after his employment was terminated, filing his tribunal claim in April 2018.

Bell Yard reviewed the contents of his submissions, drafted a media briefing, and selected key media in the data security and IT fields to brief on the eve of tribunal. Throughout the hearing Bell Yard kept interested reporters abreast of evidence and of the trial progress.

On judgment, Bell Yard was ready to issue one of two pre-prepped outcome reactions, naturally amended in light of the content of the judgment, to ensure the media would be briefed of the outcome and furnished with our client’s reaction as required. The claimant succeeded in his unfair dismissal claim but lost on the discrimination aspects.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Corby Families

Bell Yard supported the Corby families and their lawyer, Des Collins, with the announcement of the conclusion of their long-running legal battle with Corby Borough Council over what has been described as the biggest child poisoning case since the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s and 70s.

Collins Solicitors was representing the 19 children who suffered birth defects that their families’ claimed were due to the toxic dust their mothers ingested during Corby Borough Council’s redevelopment of the old British Steel site in Corby. Bell Yard devised an “A” and “B” strategy in preparation for a constructive mediation or otherwise.

In the event, the mediation was successful. The families finally received compensation and an apology from the Council and the prospect of further prolonged and expensive litigation was stayed.

Bell Yard developed messaging documents for the families and their lawyers to set an appropriate tone for media interviews. It was agreed that the main point to emphasize was the families’ relief that the validity of their case had finally been recognized. Furthermore it was important to convey that their long fight had been more over the principle than securing financial recompense.

On the day of the settlement, Bell Yard organized a press briefing in Corby for local media, complete with a congratulatory message to the families from US activist lawyer Erin Brockovich, given the similarities between her well-known case and this. Local print, online, radio and tv news led heavily with the settlement story that evening and included interviews with some of the families, their lawyer and footage of the jubilatory gesture of releasing balloons to mark the end of this protracted case,

Nationally, the challenge was to secure coverage for the families’ good news, despite media preoccupation with election and volcanic ash stories. It made the BBC 5 o’clock tv news and national radio news and every national paper (bar the FT) ran items the next day.

Lawyer Des Collins was also quoted on The Lawyer’s website about Lord Jackson’s legal proposals potentially endangering this type of group action litigation. And his colleague Danielle was “lawyer in the news” in Law Society Gazette magazine.

Bell Yard helped ensure that the end of this landmark legal case achieved the attention it deserved.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Inquest into Care Home Death

Bell Yard advised the owner of a group of care homes following concerns raised by a relative of a former resident.

There was a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of the resident which supported the care home’s narrative. The local media were contacted by the family and the care home had been invited to participate in the segment of the case to appear on the BBC’s nightly news show: Spotlight, when Bell Yard was instructed.

Bell Yard’s support and counsel was two-pronged: we ensured transparent communications among staff, residents and their families, conveying facts to prevent an inaccurate narrative from prevailing.

Secondly, Bell Yard prepared the client to appear on local media, advising them on how best to articulate the findings of the Coroner’s report, which concluded that the care home bore no responsibility for the death of the former resident.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Fraudulent Misrepresentation

Bell Yard represented independent trader Rajesh Gill in his successful fraudulent misrepresentation claim against his former broker, MF Global (Parabola Investments Limited* v MF Global UK Limited).

After an extremely prosperous start to his trading career, Mr Gill transferred his high-volume account to Union Cal (later acquired by MF Global), managed by an individual broker, Matthew Bomford. Unbeknown to Gill, his account immediately began losing significant funds, allegedly as a result of a repeated and deliberate series of failings and dishonesty at the hands of Mr Bomford. Bell Yard was instructed to protect Mr Gill’s reputation in the face of aggressive denials as to MF Global’s their liability and unfound assertions by MF Global as to Mr Gill’s competency.

Mr Gill first lodged his claim in 2006, having spent the previous four years investigating the cause of the account’s haemorrhaging fund balance. Ever since Mr Gill discovered the losses in 2002, he showed great tenacity in a protracted battle to try to get MF Global to take responsibility and accept liability in respect of fraud. However, barely two weeks into the five-week High Court trial, following Bomford’s illusory testimony, MF Global finally capitulated and admitted vicarious liability for fraudulent misrepresentation and deceit. This change of heart avoided the need for MF Global’s senior management to appear in court to give sworn evidence in a case that had, through Bell Yard’s efforts, attracted an increasingly high profile in the financial media.

In May 2009, the High Court awarded Mr Gill just under £20 million compensation in what was a landmark ruling for a lost profits case. Bell Yard worked to ensure this award received wide post-verdict coverage. The judgment was unsuccessfully appealed by the defendant.

Mr Gill was represented by Peter Atkinson of Gordon Dadds Solicitors and Neil Kitchener QC of One Essex Court Chambers.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

FCA Prosecution

Bell Yard was appointed to represent a senior banker facing an announcement of the FCA’s prosecution against him.

The banker was a former senior manager at Northern Rock who was investigated for alleged misreporting mortgage arrears in the months prior to the bank’s collapse in 2007.

He was fined and barred from working in a regulated financial services firm in one of the first successful prosecutions by the financial regulator of a UK banker for actions during the financial crisis.

Bell Yard worked with the client and his legal team to craft a suitable media statement to respond to the FCA announcement and acted as his press officers on this matter for a period after the FCA notice was published. Unusually for someone of his seniority in his field, the client wanted to publicly express his sadness at his error of judgment and to offer his deep regret. Yet it was important to emphasis to interested journalists that the misreporting of figures was not a direct cause of Northern Rock’s collapse.

Given the inevitable attention this announcement would attract, the client agreed to read his statement to camera personally for broadcasters and print media still photos, partly to face the music in line with his personal conviction, but also in an attempt to head off the inevitable doorstepping that he and his family might otherwise have experienced.

In the event, our client was not heavily demonized on a personal level in media reports. Inevitably, the headlines were not positive, but most commentators also looked at the wider issues and processes amiss at the bank rather than focusing solely on our client’s actions.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Credit Suisse

Bell Yard was approached by the beneficial owner of companies with rights to a large onshore oil & gas field in Azerbaijan. His companies were suing the investment bankers (Credit Suisse) he had appointed as M&A advisors. The claimants alleged breach of contract and negligence in relation to the sale of the companies’ 51% stake in the asset, alleging the sale was forced by Credit Suisse at a US$700m undervalue.

Bell Yard secured a number of high-profile media placements around the date the claim was first filed. Thereafter, we retained the media focus at tactically important times in the litigation both pre & during trial. We engaged both international and Swiss media, given the nature of the claim and its parties.

While the media spotlight did not cause defendant to settle it did make uncomfortable reading for the bank and its key individuals named in the filing.

Ultimately, the bank successfully defended most aspects of its case but under scrutiny, with implications for the managers involved.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Director Fraud

Bell Yard was hired by a private, regulated funds management company on the Isle of Man to advise on communications following a suspicion of fraud by one of its Directors.

Initially the plan was to contain any information about the problem as far as possible whilst PwC conducted a full investigation into the extent and impact of the fraud. However client scripts were prepared in case of enquiries about why the company had applied for freezing orders to protect its funds and as to the whereabouts of the perpetrator. We also prepared for news of any arrest given the police involvement.

In the event, a local media enquiry about a possible 8 figure fraud at the company and the local financial regulator and police confirming their investigations, triggered the need for a public response and careful client communications.

Bell Yard continued to advise on communications in support of each new development in the story – the local paper following this issue reported when the company sought to recover funds from the Director concerned, when the family confirmed his disappearance, when the police eventually arrested him and when his case finally came to trial. Media responses and investor client scripts were required on each occasion.

In the end the fraudster was sentenced to over 10 years in prison for theft and fraud totalling around £5.5m with local papers and the local BBC reporting the news.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Babar Ahmad

Babar Ahmad was arrested in London on 5 August 2004 following an extradition request from the US on allegations of terrorism, by dint of the fact that that he established Azzam.com, a website supporting Chechen and Taliban fighters that shut down in 2002. 

The ‘evidence’ supporting the US allegations was the same material that had been reviewed the previous year by the Met, and on which the Crown Prosecution Service declared in July 2004 some months before the US demand for an arrest was executed, that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge him with any criminal offence under UK law. Yet this UK-based ‘evidence’ was thereafter sent to the US prosecutors who inexplicably reached the opposite conclusion.

This began the 9 year detention of Babar in the UK whilst he fought extradition to the US and for a UK trial instead – resulting in Babar becoming the longest-held person on remand in British history.

Whilst imprisoned, Bell Yard assisted his family with their campaigning www.freebabarahmad.com, to broaden his support based on the fundamental principles of fair trials for all, and highlighting the absurdity of extraditing in circumstances were the defendant, alleged conduct and ‘evidence’ all resided in the UK. A number of parliamentary briefings were organised, together with regular press releases to UK media to keep them up-to-date on the injustice that Babar was facing in order to encourage the Home Office to not accede to the US’s extradition request. Making UK legal history, BBC’s Newsnight programme aired a pre-trial interview with Babar whilst still in detention at HMP Long Lartin following a lengthy battle by the BBC against the Ministry of Justice for the right to broadcast an interview with a detainee. In another first, campaigners secured over 150,000 signatories to a parliamentary petition seeking to end the continued detention on remand and calling for Babar to be put on trial in the UK. This resulted in two parliamentary debates on the subject of his case and extradition to the US more broadly.

Unfortunately, all legal challenges failed and Babar was extradited to the US on 5th October 2012. He was held in solitary confinement in a Supermax prison, awaiting trial. Babar endured these conditions for 14 months and thereafter pled guilty to one count of providing material support to ‘terrorists’. He admitted running a website that called for financial contribution to support the Taliban and the Muslims in the Chechen war. 

He was sentenced to 12 and half years by the judge, and the 10 years he had already spent in prison would be credited against that sentence. Judge Hall’s sentencing remarks reflected the views that his campaigners had held for the previous decade or so: She ruled “There was never any aid given by these defendants to effectuate a plot. By plot, I mean a terrorist plot … Neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism …” She described Ahmad as a “good person” who she believed posed no threat to the public and stated she had weighed the seriousness of his crime with his good character after reading thousands of letters of support and hearing from British prison officials who described him as an exemplary inmate…. “It appears to me that he [Babar] is a generous, thoughtful person who is funny and honest. He is well liked and humane and empathetic… This is a good person who does not, and will not, act in the future to harm other people.”

Babar returned to the UK in 2015 eventually free to resume his life.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

SFO & Severn Trent Water

This case offered an interesting example of media scrutiny of individuals who have no opportunity to defend themselves in court.

In 2008, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was prosecuting STW for ‘knowingly and/or recklessly providing false information’ on water leakage to its regulator, OFWAT, in 2001 and 2002.

Severn Trent pleaded guilty to two offences under the Water Industry Act. In court and in media statements, the company repeatedly criticised the ‘previous regime’.

The company’s decision to plead guilty was made in the knowledge that former Directors had resolutely denied any suggestion of personal wrongdoing. It is the uncomfortable circumstance of corporate prosecutions that allows companies to blame individuals without affording the opportunity to those identified individuals to defend themselves since they are not personally parties to the prosecution.

Bell Yard aided Mr Duckworth to respond to Severn Trent’s statements and ensure that he received an opportunity to give an account of himself and his conduct through the media, given he was denied that chance in the ordinary course of the legal proceedings.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Sale of Asian Oil Field

Bell Yard advised the beneficial owners of two companies suing a Swiss bank at the High Court in London for breach of duty over the sale, at an undervalue, of its oil field asset in Central Asia.

Bell Yard highlighted to media key reports from court of the inadequacy of the M&A process and the independent experts’ research into the potential value of the claimants’ interest in the oil field. When the High Court found that the bank did not owe a duty of care to the claimants.

Bell Yard was on hand to focus attention on the Bank’s “reprehensible” conduct and derogatory attitude to its client, made plain in a series of emails as reported in the judgment. Efforts to appeal against the judgment of the first instance court are ongoing.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Russian Commodities Assets Dispute

Bell Yard was appointed as litigation PR specialists to support the existing corporate PR agency of a Russian commodity company and its high profile CEO, during its defence of a long-running London-based dispute over Russian assets. It was then one of largest ever commercial litigations to be heard in a British court.

The case had all the hallmarks that usually attract media headlines. It lifted the lid on the lawlessness and violence of the natural resources wars in the post-USSR era. Some 70 witnesses were due to participate, some anonymously, and the claimant by video for fear of arrest were he to step foot in the UK. The claimant was also alleging intimidation and fears for his safety, suggestions of which the defendant hotly disputed.

The PR battle was certainly as intense as the legal fight, which itself had been going on for some time before Bell Yard was appointed. We worked with both the defendant legal team and its existing PRs with assiduous PR planning of storylines, target media and media briefings ahead of trial.

The UK and international media were equally as important given the global empires and reputations of the characters involved and their myriad of stakeholders.

An unexpected out-of-court settlement occurred after the opening of trial, when the skeleton arguments were officially in the public domain. A little-known reference to an overseas judgment proved toxic & difficult to counter at the 11th hour with no pre-warning, which simply underlined need for close cooperation between lawyer, client and PR, from the earliest possible time in any litigation.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Tajikistan Aluminium Dispute

Bell Yard advised Ansol, an international aluminium trading company, in its various high-octane disputes against TadAZ (now known as Talco) the Tajikistan aluminium smelter (Ansol* & Otrs* – v – RUSAL (Russian Aluminium Company), TadAZ & Otrs).

Following early settlement, the world’s second largest aluminium company, RUSAL, was removed as a co-defendant in the action. The litigation involved multi-jurisdictional actions, freezing orders, worldwide injunctions and counterclaims as part of the multi-million dollar litigation over an alleged breach of a joint venture agreement.

The case finally settled on confidential terms one month in to the anticipated six month trial, in November 2008, following transnational media coverage across the UK, Russia and Tajikistan.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Independent school fraud

Bell Yard was engaged by a private school in London to assist with communications around a fraud issue. They had discovered that a business manager had submitted false expense claims over a 1.5 year period amounting to nearly £250,000. A settlement was agreed with the perpetrator for repayment of money owed, however given the police had commenced criminal proceedings, the fraud was bound to become known during a public court hearing.

The Chair of the Board of Trustees asked Bell Yard to help prepare communications to staff, parents, donors and the media.

Our advice was to present this as a shocking and blatant breach of trust by a rogue former employee but one with no negative impact on the accounts or financial viability of any of schools concerned. There was no black hole nor had the thefts disrupted any planned expenditure on pupils, staff or facilities and a plan was in place to achieve repayment of the stolen funds. We prepared various letters and statements to have ready for the possibility of a leak before the court appearance.

In the event local media did attend the court hearing triggering a letter to parents and staff. In addition Bell Yard advised how to respond to a Mumsnet thread which touched on the fraud issue and required careful handling.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Trustee Fraud

Bell Yard assisted an international children’s charity when it decided to take action in London against a former UK Trustee. The claim, which involved Summary Judgment proceedings in the High Court, was bought in order to recover sizeable unauthorised payments improperly received by the Trustee.

The payments were in contravention of UK charity law and the charity’s own articles of association.

Although the charity was ultimately successful in recovering the funds, the effect of a public court case meant that its governance, internal politics and financial affairs were in the spotlight and reportable. The reputation considerations were further complicated by the defendant former Trustee choosing to use colourful and emotive language designed to attract public attention, no matter the veracity. Bell Yard’s key task was to work with the Charity to create a style of rebuttal that informed but resisted the temptation to out-shout the defendant. The Charity’s position was vindicated by the legal outcome.

In the event the dispute stayed out of the national press but Third Sector magazine closely followed the case. News reports of the judgment were amplified by an in-depth feature piece, which gave a platform to the counter accusations and defence of the former Trustee. Bell Yard ensured the Charity’s rebuttal was robust and timely.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Charity Fraud

Bell Yard was hired by a private, regulated funds management company to advise on communications following a suspicion of fraud by one of its Directors.

Initially the plan was to contain any information about the problem as far as possible whilst PwC conducted a full investigation into the extent and impact of the fraud. However client scripts were prepared in case of enquiries about why the company had applied for freezing orders to protect its funds and as to the whereabouts of the perpetrator. We also prepared for news of any arrest given the police involvement.

In the event, a local media enquiry about a possible 8 figure fraud at the company and the local financial regulator and police confirming their investigations, triggered the need for a public response and careful client communications.

Bell Yard continued to advise on communications in support of each new development in the story – the local paper following this issue reported when the company sought to recover funds from the Director concerned, when the family confirmed his disappearance, when the police eventually arrested him and when his case finally came to trial. Media responses and investor client scripts were required on each occasion.

In the end the fraudster was sentenced to over 10 years in prison for theft and fraud totalling around £5.5m with local papers and the local BBC reporting the news but the company’s reputation was upheld.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Jeremy Crook

As a result of our work for the NatWest 3, Jerry approached Bell Yard to seek its support for continuing the fight against certain provisions in the 2003 Extradition Act.

In a case not dissimilar to the NW3, Jerry Crook was, until 2001, Vice-President of the European operations of Peregrine Systems, a US-headquartered technology company. Peregrine collapsed in 2002. In October 2004, unbeknown to him, Jerry was indicted in the US on fraud charges relating to Peregrine’s bankruptcy. His extradition from the UK was sought in 2006. Determined to clear his name and to uncover the supposed ‘evidence’ against him allegedly being held by US prosecutors, he attempted to waive his extradition rights and travel voluntarily to the US. He hoped to not be automatically labelled a ‘flight risk’ by the US Government, as are all those who exercise their constitutional right to contest extradition. However, the UK’s then Home Secretary refused to let him waive his rights, citing that extradition proceedings were already underway. This meant the CPS refused to hand him back his passport preventing his voluntary travel to the US, despite his decision not to contest the extradition request. He therefore was extradited by US marshals to San Diego, California in September 2006.

He was granted bail which required him to remain in San Diego, although he was allowed periodic short returns to the UK over the next 2½ years. After several trial delays coupled with the US prosecutor’s refusal to grant immunity to his witnesses thereby restricting his ability to mount a proper defence at trial (similar to NW3), the last straw for Jerry was undoubtedly the Department of Justice threatening to indict his main defence witness if she testified for him. So, like many extradites before him, and many after, Jerry felt compelled to plead guilty to one count of ‘wire fraud’ in February 2009. His ‘admission’ amounted to signing a contract with BT which others, not him, later used to manipulate the market.

In March 2009, San Diego newspapers reported that the U.S. attorney’s office dropped charges against the last remaining defendant in the Peregrine Systems case, a week after a jury could not reach a verdict in his case, resulting in a mistrial.

Jerry was finally sentenced in May 2009 to 27 months in custody plus a fine of $750,000 in restitution (despite there being no suggestion that Jerry personally profited from the contract).

The noteworthy result of this long-standing Peregrine Systems prosecution was that all four executives who took their case to trial in the US were eventually freed, as the trials ended with deadlocked juries. Fifteen former Peregrine officials entered plea bargains.

Jerry had to report to a US prison in Pennsylvania before 10 July 2009 to begin his sentence which he has now completed, following a prison transfer to the UK in 2010.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Richard O’Dwyer

We were asked to assist Richard O’Dwyer, the 23yr old Sheffield Hallam University student who faced prosecution in the US for copyright infringement.

Bell Yard assisted Richard and his family in exposing the ongoing and very real danger of extradition that arises from the disproportionate and unnecessary pursuit of British citizens by the US Department of Justice. We also continue to demonstrate the lack of protection in the UK’s legislation against such wide-ranging extra-territorial reach.

Richard was alleged to have infringed the copyright of the Motion Picture Association of America by setting up a website (TVShack.net) which directed visitors to sites on the internet where they could download US tv shows and films for free. However, European case law suggests that by merely acting as a conduit, a website cannot be held to be infringing copyright.

Richard and his mother, with Bell Yard’s assistance, raised further awareness of the one-sided and unfair nature of Britain’s extradition legislation. To that end, Bell Yard established a website www.friends-extradited.org. Richard was supported by the founder of Wikipeadia, Jimmy Wales, and the UK’s Guardian newspaper. In November 2012 he eventually secured a deferred prosecution agreement with the DoJ with a promise not to attempt to infringe copyright and in return for a fine and no term of imprisonment, in lieu of extradition.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Chris Tappin

Bell Yard assisted Chris Tappin and his family in attracting media interest in the absurdity of his extradition to the US. After his appeal was rejected by the High Court in February 2012, Chris was extradited on 24 February 2012 to Houston and then flown to El Paso, Texas awaiting a US trial.

Chris was incarcerated pending a bail hearing at a county prison across the border in Otero, New Mexico. It was hoped that the UK government would have been sufficiently moved by Mr Tappin’s plight, a 65 year old grandfather, President of Kent Golf Union and an upstanding member of his community, so as to seek to ensure his release on bail. The UK government let Chris down. In the event, it was his US lawyer’s offer to house him in his own home, which secured Chris’ bail after 8 weeks incarceration, to allow him to begin the process of defending himself against allegations of conspiring to export controlled items (batteries) from the USA, which the US Government claims were intended for us in hawk missiles in Iran. Throughout, Mr Tappin vehemently denied knowingly being party to such an act. Moreover he contended that the case against him was misguided and results from a sting operation by US Government agents. Following months of requests to receive the exculpatory evidence from the US DoJ, after which he was informed that transcripts of the FBI taped calls had been ‘lost’, Chris decided to put an end to the on-going uncertainty of his stay in the US. He plead guilty to one count of conspiracy, which allowed him to serve most of his 33 month sentence back home in the UK, close to his family.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

NatWest Three

Bell Yard advised three former NatWest executives who faced extradition to the US, in both their Judicial Review of the decision of the Director of the SFO not to investigate the three for alleged fraud, and in their extradition appeal.

At the outset of Bell Yard’s involvement in August 2004, the media perception was one of three alleged fraudsters trying to escape justice. As a result of repeated and detailed media briefings and political lobbying, together with tactical third party endorsement, the perception evolved to one of three former bankers pleading guilty to one count of conflict of interest in the face of prolonged and disproportionate disruption to their family lives as a result of an unfair and non-reciprocal extradition treaty, poorly negotiated by the then UK government.

As a direct result of this case, the business community has now woken up to the dangers of the 2003 Extradition Act. As we predicted at the time, a raft of cases followed in the footsteps of the ‘NatWest 3’, after their unsuccessful hearings in the Magistrates Court, Court of Appeal, Judicial Review and the refusal of the House of Lords to hear matters which opponents of the Extradition Act considered to be of genuine public interest.

Bell Yard was responsible for ensuring the media were fully briefed on each of the legal rulings and their implications. We remain active, on a pro-bono basis, until such time as we and others are successful in ensuring that a fairer extradition regime is brought into play.

Bell Yard was also responsible for working with prominent entrepreneur Karl Watkin MBE to arrange a protest march to the Home Office by business people concerned by the current US/UK extradition arrangements, which attracted around 200 attendees and secured over 400 signatories to the petition to the Home Office, and secured prime time television, national and international coverage.

We also sought to change the Extradition Act to include a forum provision – which eventually was enacted by Home Secretary Theresa May, albeit the version of the forum bar to extradition she chose to introduce was weighted significantly in favour of the prosecutors and against the interests of defendants. As a result, Bell Yard continues to see unfair and disproportionate efforts by the US government to extradite British citizens and sees first hand the terror this causes innocent victims and their families. We pledge to continue to highlight these injustices until the law is more finely balanced between protecting victims of criminality and protecting defendants from disproportionate abuses of freedom and rights by the state.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Bell Yard recognised by Chambers and Partners and Lawdragon

Bell Yard is pleased to share news of its ranking in Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide 2021.

One client is quoted as saying: “We always recommend Bell Yard because they never let us down… the level of hard work, care and speed of accurate turnaround, coupled with deep and wide capability, is what marks them out from other litigation comms support.”

Bell Yard’s founder and Director, Melanie Riley, ranked Band 1, is referred to by peers as “hugely respected” and is praised by clients as “insightful” and “an excellent comms practitioner.” 

Melanie and senior consultant, Louise Beeson, also feature in Lawdragon’s Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting 2021

The guide recognises the top 100 experts in crisis communications, marketing, management consulting and professional recruiting.

24 June 2021

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Bell Yard top ranked litigation PR firm for third year running

Bell Yard is delighted to share news of its ranking as a Band 1 PR & Communications firm in Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide 2020, marking its third consecutive year at the top of the rankings, upheld each year since the Guide’s inception.

Clients have described the firm as “market-leading” and the team as “outstanding” and “the only go-to.”

Bell Yard Communications’ Director, Melanie Riley, also continues to be ranked in Band 1. She is described as “a force of her own in the field” and as giving “calm, measured and knowledgeable advice that is grounded in her huge experience.”

Melanie said: “Maintaining our pre-eminent position for a third year is reassuring and is testament to the diligence and dedication of our close-knit team. We are extremely grateful for the continued trust and belief in our counsel from our clients, peers and referrers – even more so during these unprecedented times – who challenge us daily to be the best that we can be.”

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Bell Yard Featured in Lawdragon’s Top 100 Leaders in Legal Consulting

Bell Yard Communications’ founder and director, Melanie Riley and senior consultant, Louise Beeson, both feature in Lawdragon’s Global 100 Leaders in Legal Strategy & Consulting 2020 – out of only 10 UK-based consultants included in the guide.

The guide recognises the top 100 experts in management, marketing, communication and recruiting services, as voted for by legal industry leaders.

See the full list here.

10th June 2020

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The Q2 2021 Litigation Horizon

So we are on the cusp of a litigation boom if a recent survey by Gallagher, the risk manager and insurance broker, (specifically Its Business Litigation Index) is to be believed.

Employment litigation will surge later this year after the furlough scheme ends, with organisations likely to face a high volume of redundancy-related claims, Gallagher says.

Cyber-related litigation will increase, they predict, because of remote working, a greater reliance on technology and automation and there will be more data-related group claims.

Contract disputes will also be on the march arising out of COVID-related breaches and supply chain issues. Oh and add Brexit to the mix and you have the perfect storm, according to Gallagher. (No mention interestingly of the recent trend for companies having to resort to suing their insurers for non-pay out of policies to cover Covid losses, but that is surely part of the picture too. Unsurprisingly Gallagher is keener to stress the role of insurance brokers to help businesses defend any potential claims).

Our perspective at Bell Yard chimes with some of the above – but not all.

On the employment front, from our vantage point, some companies in the City and elsewhere have in many instances begun to restructure already. The end of furlough may not be quite such a cliff-edge in our opinion. We have seen cases in the last 12 months involving high-end talent wars as well as those concerning allegations of inappropriate behaviour – and expect no let-up in these types of matters. We anticipate businesses will continue to add talent in growth areas and to bolster leadership teams. They will also continue to weed out those who don’t respect or embody the right values in our new D&I-friendly era, although it is possible some exits may be made under the cloak of Covid-related restructuring. PR handling skills for such sensitive matters will remain in demand.

Cyber cases have been a growing trend for a while and we agree will continue its upward trajectory, as well as all nature of group claims from unlawful fuel emissions (which arguably has tech at the heart) to medical practice. Group cases in particular require expert PR support – look no further for a firm with notable experience! We have yet to see supply chain-related cases cross our books for covid reasons or due to the recent Suez canal block incident. 

We do however anticipate a spate of fraud-related cases coming into radar soon, given the pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity for rogue employees. And creditor-led / insolvency related litigation.

Health-related litigation and healthcare sector litigation is also an obvious area in which to expect more disputes. Cases involving foreign litigants in English courts seem to be in abeyance and this is not a trend we see reversing any time soon. 

Of course, PR is often a useful or essential part of litigation battle armoury at the outset of a claim, for claimants and respondents alike. The challenge for us is predicting when cases will likely come to trial given court backlogs, associated incentives to settle and greater use of ADR mechanisms.

Thankfully it has been a busy lockdown for the Bell Yard team but we are certainly up for a litigation boom. We look forward to abandoning Zoom and meeting in person to discuss prospective matters very soon.

by Louise Beeson 7 May 2021

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Campaigners cautiously welcome progress towards infected blood compensation

Des Collins, Senior Partner, Collins Solicitors, legal advisor to over 1500 people affected by the contaminated blood scandal, responding to today’s Ministerial Statement by the Paymaster General, Penny Mordaunt, said:

“It’s been three and a half years to the day since the Court granted us permission to sue the Government on behalf of the thousands of families affected by the grossly negligent actions of the state in the 70s and 80s, leading to haemophiliacs and others being infected with HIV and Hepatitis from contaminated blood products.

“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction. Whilst an uplift to the existing financial support provision, which provides short-term help to ease the suffering of the infected and affected, is welcomed, it regrettably still does not include everyone affected, such as parents of children who have died, or children who have lost parents as a result of this scandal.

“Regarding the compensation framework, we shall be making robust representations to the Independent Reviewer, as the consultation will only achieve its aim if the infected and affected are, with expert guidance, able to play a full part in the process. The government owes that to those who are still alive yet suffering after 40 years, and by way of demonstrating respect to those whose lives were prematurely ended at the hands of the state.

“We expect the compensation consultation to have been completed and the framework agreed in principle by the time the Infected Blood Inquiry reports next Summer so that there can be no delay in implementing Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations.”

ENDS
25 March 2021

The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, is the UK’s largest ever statutory inquiry, established to investigate how men women and children were given infected blood and blood products by the NHS from the 1970s. It is currently continuing its hearings remotely which can be followed live on the Infected Blood Inquiry website/YouTube channel.

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Hagens Berman UK LLP Secures Litigation Funding, ATE Insurance and Issues Proceedings Against Mercedes, Strengthening its Global Litigation Against the Car Manufacturer

English claim could be worth more than £1bn.

Hagens Berman UK, the London firm of globally renowned US class-action law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, announces the latest developments in its consumer group action litigation on behalf of UK Mercedes drivers affected by emissions-cheating.

Hagens Berman UK successfully secured substantial litigation funding from Harbour as well as significant After-the-Event (ATE) Insurance to protect its claimant group. The firm has filed proceedings against Daimler AG, Mercedes Benz Cars UK Limited and Mercedes Benz Financial Services UK Limited, in order to press England and Wales Mercedes’ drivers claims arising from dirty diesel-related emissions.

Some 33,000 England and Wales based Mercedes drivers have already registered interest to have Hagens Berman represent them in the group litigation and can now formally opt in to join the group (according to GLO procedure). Other interested parties are also still eligible to join.

“British consumers have a similar right to compensation for unlawful, deceptive and defective emissions-cheating implemented by Mercedes,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “Following the $700 million US settlement against Mercedes, we spent the past year laying the foundation for equally successful litigation in the UK. We are now poised to hold Mercedes and other defendants to account.”

An estimated 1.2 million potential claimants in England and Wales owning, leasing or operating affected Mercedes vehicles – either currently or previously – have been affected, based on Mercedes selling more than 700,000 impacted vehicles there between 2008 and 20181. This includes private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire-car companies, as well as lessees of relevant vehicles.

Hagens Berman’s US litigation against Mercedes, led by Steve Berman, returned more than $700 million to US owners of affected Mercedes dirty diesel BlueTEC vehicles2, and led to a $2.2 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and others in 2020.

Michael Gallagher, Co-Managing Director and partner of Hagens Berman UK, comments: “Harbour’s case-specific funding and the fact we have successfully secured ATE coverage for claimants from Top-Rated A+ insurers demonstrates a recognition of the merits of our case.

“ATE insurance is meaningful to our clients, and should be to every client claimant, as it provides an extra layer of value and security for them. We are especially proud to offer this to those who join our group litigation, in addition to a no-win, no fee arrangement.”

Gallagher added: “As a firm, we have an impressive reputation for investigating, researching and litigating against global defendants and diesel emissions-cheating fraud. We will be leveraging that expertise and applying the same tenacity and attention to detail in pursuing our litigation in the UK.”

Hagens Berman UK launched in London in 2020 and is Hagens Berman’s first international office. The firm has retained a Leading Commercial QC – David Cavender of One Essex Court – to serve as its QC in the case against Mercedes. In addition to its existing London-based solicitor team, the firm will be making further notable hires in the coming weeks.

Steve Berman comments: “We have plans to grow our brand and reputation in the UK market where there is scope to do more to champion consumer rights over corporate wrong-doing and violations and where the legal landscape is changing. Alongside our emissions and automotive case work, where we will initially focus on Mercedes-related litigation in the UK, we intend to broaden our practice and caseload into other areas of the law especially in competition, consumer, environmental, securities and civil rights litigation.”

Current and former owners, lessees and fleet operators of affected Mercedes vehicles in England and Wales who are interested in finding out more about the Hagens Berman UK Group Litigation Order may visit www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk. This group action claim is being conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning that there will be no out-of-pocket cost to sign up or participate.

Ends

Media Contacts

Bell Yard Communications: +44 207 936 2021 / BellYard@bell-yard.com
Melanie Riley: +44 7775 591244 / melanie@bell-yard.com
Louise Beeson: +44 7768 956997 / louise@bell-yard.com
Sarah Peters: +44 7977 997927 / sarah@bell-yard.com

Steve Berman and Michael J. Gallagher Jr. are available for interviews and can be reached on ashleyk@hbsslaw.co.uk

Notes for Editors

About Hagens Berman

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with nine offices across the US. Hagens Berman UK LLP is headquartered in London and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. Hagens Berman’s track record spans many practice areas, with record-breaking settlements and victories in the areas of automotive litigation, securities, consumer-rights cases, pension protection and more.

Some of the firm’s highlights include State Tobacco Litigation ($206 billion settlement), Visa MasterCard ATM Antitrust Litigation ($27 billion settlement), Toyota Sudden, Unintended Acceleration ($1.6 billion settlement), E-books Antitrust Litigation ($560 million settlement), Enron Pension Protection Litigation ($250 million settlement), Charles Schwab Securities Litigation ($235 million settlement), NCAA Grant in Aid Scholarships Litigation ($208 million settlement), as well as many other record-setting achievements.

Read more about Hagens Berman’s victories and record-breaking settlements at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

About Hagens Berman’s Litigation against Mercedes

Footnotes

1. Hagens Berman not only secured a $700 million settlement from Mercedes in 2020 on behalf of US Mercedes owners of affected diesel vehicles but Mercedes was also forced to conduct a nationwide recall, repair Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles, pay more than $945 million in penalties, perform projects to mitigate pollution and revamp its procedures. Hagens Berman has also been involved in litigation against Volkswagen in the US where it was found that a comparable defeat device was used and again, the firm also secured substantial compensation for US vehicle owners.

2. Hagen Berman’s Group Litigation Action in England and Wales alleges that Mercedes used illegal emissions-cheating devices to mask non-compliant levels of pollution in the following vehicles powered by BlueTEC diesel-fuelled engines and sold from 2008 up to 2018: A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, Citan, CLA, CLS, E-Class, GL-Class, GLA-Class, GLC-Class, GLE-Class, GLS, M-Class, S-Class, SLK, Sprinter, V-Class, and Vito. (This list continues to expand as the investigation evolves so operators should register their Mercedes model.) Models include passenger and commercial vehicles and vans, such as people movers, shuttles and taxis. Not only private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire car companies, but also lessees of vehicles affected may be eligible for damages. Compensation could be in the range of £5,000 to £10,000 per vehicle. To find out more visit: www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk or http://www.hbsslaw.co.uk/.

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Climate change litigation – the heat is on

The battle against climate change is increasingly being fought in the courtroom, with the number of climate litigation cases globally almost doubling over the past three years, in an attempt to drive – or, in some cases, delay – effective action on climate change.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, more than 1,550 cases* had been filed in 38 countries as of 1 July 2020, up from 884 cases in 24 countries in 2017. While the overwhelming majority of these cases have been brought in the US, the UK ranks third after Australia in terms of the number of climate litigation cases filed (63 at the time of writing).

With countries around the world increasingly articulating policy objectives to address climate change impacts and setting national emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, a diverse group of claimants are turning to the courts to compel governments and businesses to implement their climate commitments; pursue more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals; and obtain compensation for climate harms.

As climate litigation rises in frequency and number, the body of legal precedent is growing and forming an ever more coherent field of law. The profile and pressure created by litigation – whether it ultimately succeeds or fails – may influence policy, regulation and corporate behaviour, as well as encouraging similar lawsuits.

Claimants are increasingly deploying novel, bold and creative legal arguments, supported by advances in climate attribution science and greater awareness of the financial risks of climate change – including using human rights-based arguments in cases that seek to advance climate policies, drive strategic change, and raise public awareness.

In the most high-profile human rights-based case to date, Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands, a Dutch environmental NGO and 900 Dutch citizens sued the government in 2015 to require it to take more ambitious climate action in line with its human rights obligations. In December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands upheld the lower courts’ order requiring the Dutch government to reduce Dutch emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. It is the first time a government has been compelled by law to take action on climate change.

And now, in a similarly ground-breaking case led by the lawyer behind the Urgenda case, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) hopes to force Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. Backed by more than 17,000 Dutch claimants and six other organisations, the case was heard in The Hague in December, with the eagerly anticipated judgment due in May.

Meanwhile, in Australia a group of teenagers have launched a class action lawsuit to challenge the environment minister’s approval of a New South Wales coal mine, which they claim violates her duty of care to future generations. The landmark case, which was heard in the Federal Court yesterday, could have dramatic implications for the country’s future energy policy.

Other climate litigation trends include:
• using various strategies in lawsuits against the major fossil fuel companies – ranging from nuisance claims, planning and permitting cases, disclosure-related and fraud cases – including class actions that seek to exploit the wealth of precedent from US tobacco, asbestos and other mass tort claims;
• advocating for greater climate disclosures and an end to greenwashing, i.e. making false or misleading claims about the environmental credentials of a company’s products or the company itself;
• a rise in the number of claims alleging insufficient disclosure or breach of duty by directors, pension fund trustees, auditors, etc in relation to under-reporting or alleged insufficient consideration of climate risk;
• international investors’ use of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system to bring legal action against host governments to claim damages for costs imposed by domestic climate change regulation.

Although climate change litigation is still in its relative infancy in the UK, we have seen a number of precedent-setting cases over the past couple of years.

In one of the most prominent examples, environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth and Plan B challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to designate a third runway at Heathrow on a number of climate change-related grounds. While the Court of Appeal (CoA) ruled that the Government’s plans to expand Heathrow Airport were unlawful because they failed to take account of the Paris Agreement, in December 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the CoA’s judgment following an appeal by Heathrow Airport. Plan B now intends to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Separately, Plan B has served a pre-action letter on the UK government, alleging that its failure to develop a plan to tackle climate change represents a violation of human rights and of both domestic and international law.

In another landmark case, Client Earth, an environmental law charity, filed a greenwashing complaint against BP in December 2019, alleging that BP’s global ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ advertising campaign misled the public by focusing on the company’s low carbon energy products, when more than 96% of its annual spend is on oil and gas, and as such violated the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As a result, BP withdrew the campaign and committed to redirecting its advertising resources towards advocating for progressive climate policies.

While the majority of cases involve claims against the government and carbon majors, no business is immune from the threat of climate litigation – and the reputational challenges this may bring. Even if a company’s defence stands up legally, it should take into account the likely reputational impact of its arguments under public scrutiny when considering the most appropriate course of action.

Pension funds and asset managers in particular are feeling the heat from climate risk disclosure and investment-related lawsuits. More cases of climate litigation affecting the financial sector were filed in 2018 than in any previous year, according to a 2019 study. This upward trend is likely to continue with more cases brought against investment funds in relation to the need to diversify their investment portfolios to ensure exposure to climate change risk is minimised and to disclose the climate change risk inherent in their investments.

In fact, many of the world’s largest asset managers are already taking pre-emptive action and pushing companies to slash emissions, including BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in his most recent annual letter to business leaders and, in the UK, Aviva Investors, which has threatened to divest fully from 30 oil, gas and mining companies unless they set net zero emission goals and integrate climate risks into their strategy.

A growing source of climate-based litigation is likely to be activist investors, who use their shareholdings to overcome problems of legal standing. Whether claims relate to financial disclosure or directors’ duties, shareholder litigation does not face the same justiciability and causation hurdles that still beset tort-based claims.

As financial disclosure requirements related to climate risk increase – with the UK set to become the first country in the world to make Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) aligned disclosures fully mandatory across the economy by 2025 – so too does the likelihood that regulators, consumers, and investors will take action where those disclosures are misleading or incomplete.

According to a ClientEarth report published last month, the overwhelming majority of the UK’s top listed companies are failing to meaningfully disclose climate-related risks, impacts and financial implications. Given that many companies are increasingly making public net zero commitments, this failure not only highlights possible greenwashing, but could also put some firms in breach of existing UK laws; as such, directors could be at risk of personal litigation as climate considerations begin to form a recognised part of their existing legal obligations and duties.

Fraud and greenwashing lawsuits are also being brought against companies outside the energy sector. Since 2015, for instance, Volkswagen has faced multiple class actions, most recently in the UK, over the “Dieselgate” scandal involving its greenwashing of the true extent of vehicle emissions. Mercedes is similarly facing imminent group litigation action in the UK over allegations of dirty diesel emissions fraud, following a successful US class action lawsuit.

The UK has a legally binding commitment to transition to net zero emissions by 2050. With the UK hosting COP26 in November and the G7 Summit in June, at which the Prime Minister has pledged “to build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future,” government and corporate failure to tackle climate change will be under the spotlight in this country more than ever this year.

Indeed, only last week Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, was sent a letter before action by a Cumbrian climate change campaign group, giving notice of its intention to seek a judicial review of his decision not to call in plans for a new deep coalmine in the county – despite the Climate Change Committee warning that the mine would increase global emissions, compromise the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets and give a “negative impression of the UK’s climate priorities in the year of COP26”.

Businesses – whichever sector they operate in – must be alert to the evolving climate change litigation landscape, especially the innovative strategies that are helping to drive the global surge in claims and set new precedents. It is imperative that companies and their directors fully understand, and take steps to mitigate, the risk of litigation – as well as the potential financial and reputational repercussions. The heat is on: climate change is a threat that no one can afford to ignore.

*The UNEP report defines climate change litigation as “cases that raise material issues of law or fact relating to climate change mitigation, adaptation, or the science of climate change”, which are brought before a range of administrative, judicial, and other adjudicatory bodies.

by Sarah Peters 3.3.21

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Right to be offended?

In this seemingly endless time of lockdown, I have found myself hunkering down, fighting a daily battle to block out the constant stream of negativity across social, print and broadcast media in which I’m immersed. Am I alone? It certainly feels a little isolating.

Perhaps it’s that fear is as contagious as the pandemic itself, which further manifests as anger, encouraging people endlessly to berate the conduct of others, giving insufficient thought to the impact of their ire, let alone the motive that might lie behind the perceived wrongdoing.

I can’t help but believe we’re witnessing ever-increasing levels of outrage – usually viral – at the latest thoughtless decision, clumsy phraseology, or misjudged conduct of others. Is it my misremembering, or was there once an age when disagreements were aired candidly and forcibly but with humour and in a spirit of education? Was there a time when we rolled our eyes and, in extremis, prepped our pens to compose a pithy letter to the editor to get our views across? We felt much better in ourselves for getting it off our chest, yet somehow without seeking to score points or encourage a pile-on against the subject of our irritation. 

Of course, social media has played its part in stoking resentment and, when there’s been so much loss and suffering over the past year, let alone ever-changing rules and restrictions, no wonder there’s an air of real umbrage. But does someone else always have to be to blame? Do we need to call out every misdemeanour as a deep personal slight? Should it be commonplace to cancel people we disagree with, just because their views don’t align with our own? Are we all simply too ready to take offence?

We can all name examples and there exist not just a few. We’ve seen universities tie themselves up in knots over no-platforming speakers, tennis players’ grovelling apologies after complaining about their lockdown lot while others are suffering (but not for their sport), and brands such as Variety desperately disassociating itself from its film critic’s review.

As a communicator, I’d like to believe there’s a place for high-profile individuals and corporates to stand by their opinions or actions, to explain and engage, rather than rush for the obligatory act of contrition, self-flagellation and retreat to the bunker until the storm blows over.

I abhor the group-think mentality that all-too often pervades public discourse – perhaps because the subtlety of an argument is too hard to convey in 280 characters and click-bait works when seeing attention. But how will this change unless and until brands become ballsy and take on their detractors, albeit with reason, charm and a good dose of understanding.

As trolls go, it was relatively harmless, but I loved Davina McCall’s retort to her online critics decrying her choice of outfit at her age – she simply owned her decision to grow old ‘disgracefully’. Nigella’s a past master at gentle shading through humour that regularly cuts through. Southern Rail’s young work experience Twitter manager, meanwhile, did wonders to humanise and rebalance the company’s poor image.

It’s certainly true that some voices and opinions have been improperly marginalised for too long and social media (increasingly leading to mainstream media take-up) has brought them a welcome spotlight to help educate and inform. Nowadays it’s so easy to call out ‘inappropriate’ conduct or views – but I fear the definition of inappropriate is narrowing to the point of causing harm. 

The question is: do these endless battles represent progress or do they mean we are simply more bruised from the battle? 

Clearly, it’s too idealistic always to expect reasoned discourse with those whose preferred setting is transmit over receive. But if the alternative is to readily take offence and give the keyboard a beasting, I don’t see how we can collectively get through tough times with our sanity intact. 

That’s why I cast my vote for positive thinking and constructive communication. Otherwise, it will be the next generation’s fortune to learn from our negativity.

Melanie Riley 1 Feb 2021

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EU Court of Justice decision puts Mercedes further on the back-foot over diesel emissions fraud claims

UK Mercedes owners should join group action here to secure compensation

A decision released by the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) yesterday (17.12.20) (see summary press release) puts Mercedes further on the back-foot in the face of claims they engaged in diesel emissions fraud in the European market, according to lawyers at Fox Williams and Hagens Berman UK who are working together on a potential group action litigation on behalf of England and Wales Mercedes owners.

The CJEU decision, sought by the French national court in relation to the Case of C-693/18 CLCV and Others* (Defeat device on diesel engines), provides important clarification on the definition and scope of the concepts of ‘emission control system’ and ‘defeat device’ with regard to EU Regulation No 715/2007. The decision finds a defeat device is not a permissible exception to the rule and expressly prohibits the use of defeat devices which reduce the effectiveness of emission control systems under normal conditions of vehicle use.

The EU Court of Justice concluded that ‘a manufacturer cannot install a defeat device which systematically improves, during approval procedures, the performance of the vehicle emission control system and thus obtain approval of the vehicle.’

Fox Williams partner Andrew Hill, who is leading the UK based group litigation against Mercedes over diesel emissions, comments: “The EU Court of Justice’s finding is binding on the entire European Union and incredibly helpful to us. Regardless of Brexit, it strengthens our case in England and Wales on behalf of consumers who, we will argue, have been defrauded by Mercedes.”

He continues: “Our case will argue that Mercedes illegally deceived the purchasers of diesel and BlueTec engine vehicles sold here between 2008 and 2018 by programming an emission defeat device during test conditions which limited illegally high, dangerous levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions normally evident in real-world driving conditions.”

“The EU Court of Justice decision provides further evidence that Mercedes owes compensation to all UK consumers who purchased or leased these vehicles.”

Fox Williams LLP is collaborating with Hagens Berman UK LLP, led by Michael Gallagher, in building its group claim in England and Wales. The firms have received funding terms and will be operating the case on a no-win, no fee basis.

US class action firm Hagens Berman pioneered a successful class action lawsuit in the US over similar fraud claims which this summer saw more than US$700m being paid out to US Mercedes owners. Hagens Berman also led litigation against Volkswagen in the US where it was found that a comparable defeat device was used and again, the firm secured substantial compensation for US vehicle owners.

Steve Berman, Managing Partner, Hagens Berman comments: “Mercedes denies there are parallels between the emissions control system used in US vehicles and European models. However, our extensive investigations show that Mercedes has been using emission defeat devices for over a decade in both the US and European markets. They have similarly misrepresented the environmental pollution levels of their engines, contravened local regulatory requirements and deceived consumers. They need to be held accountable in Europe as well as the US.”

Fox Williams and Hagens Berman UK is encouraging owners of Mercedes diesel models sold from 2008 up to 2018 to register with a view to joining their group action litigation. These models include passenger and commercial vehicles and vans, such as people movers, shuttles and taxis.

Earlier estimates suggested that approx 1.2 million potential claimants owning (or having owned) impacted vehicles purchased in England and Wales have been affected by the Mercedes Dieselgate scandal, based on Mercedes selling more than 600,000 impacted vehicles here between 2008 and 2018. However, Fox Williams and Hagens Berman, through further investigation, now believe this number could be higher given additional models are also likely emitting dirty diesel emissions.

Not only private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire car companies, but also lessees of vehicles affected may be eligible for damages.

Andrew Hill adds: “Mercedes vehicle owners and lessees in England and Wales will likely have good claims for losses caused to them from unwittingly owning or leasing dirty diesels. Compensation could be in the range of £5,000 to £10,000 per vehicle.”

Those unsure if their Mercedes vehicle is affected by the dirty diesel technology, can contact Fox Williams at www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk.

The Fox Williams-led group action claim will be conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning that there will be no out-of-pocket cost to sign up to or participate.

## ENDS ##

Media Contact

Louise Beeson, Bell Yard Communications: 07768 956997 / louise@bell-yard.com

Notes for editors

*Case C-693/ 18 CLCV and Others involved a car manufacturer alleged to have marketed vehicles in France equipped with software capable of distorting the results of approval tests for emissions of gaseous pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (‘NOx’). That company is alleged to have deceived the purchasers of diesel engine vehicles as to the essential qualities of those vehicles and the controls carried out before they were placed on the market.

About Fox Williams

Fox Williams is a leading London City law firm known for its ambition, great culture and good sense. The litigation team is recognised for its independent market position as well as for the quality of its work. The firm’s litigation lawyers advise on a wide range of disputes, employing legal strategies that minimise the risks and realistically assess the potential rewards for clients. Fox Williams has considerable experience in bringing civil fraud claims, and of cutting-edge, high-value group action litigation for institutional investors and shareholders of wrong-doing public companies. For more information, see www.foxwilliams.com.

About Hagens Berman

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is one of the largest and most renowned plaintiff-side group action law firms in the United States. The firm’s tenacious advocacy for plaintiffs has earned it numerous national accolades, including “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and consistent rankings among a handful of elite plaintiffs’ law firms. More can be found at www.hbsslaw.com.

Hagens Berman originally filed its dirty diesel emissions-cheating litigation against Mercedes in the US on 25 February 2016 and secured a US$ 700m payout on behalf of owners and lessees of affected diesel Mercedes vehicles in August 2020. This settlement is in addition to the further US$1.5 billion settlement and penalty Mercedes must pay the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

Hagens Berman was also one of the lead firms that worked to achieve the US$14.7 billion Volkswagen Dieselgate settlement in the US in 2016 (having been the first firm to file suit against Volkswagen in that matter). The firm has also pioneered emissions-cheating litigation against Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors for affected US consumers, and conducted extensive independent research and testing in each case.

Hagens Berman is currently eyeing the potential for bringing further emissions related fraud actions in the European market.

Hagens Berman Media Contact
Ashley Klann: +1 206-268-9363 / pr@hbsslaw.com

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Mercedes’ diesel recall strengthens emissions group claim says Fox Williams

Mercedes’ recent and further recall of diesel vehicles in the UK adds fuel to claims of emissions fraud

Vehicle owners should still join consumer group action even if vehicle is ‘fixed’

London……Mercedes-Benz’s latest recall of additional diesel vehicles in the UK for an emissions related software update is a strong indication the manufacturer knows it has a larger dirty diesel problem here, according to lawyers working on a potential group action litigation on behalf of UK Mercedes owners.

London law firm Fox Williams LLP, in collaboration with US class-action law firm Hagens Berman, is building a group claim in England and Wales that will allege Mercedes deliberately engaged in emissions fraud in the sale of its diesel and BlueTec vehicles by programming an emission defeat device during test conditions which limited illegally high, dangerous levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions normally evident in real-world driving conditions.

This follows Hagens Berman’s multi-year investigations of a similar fraud in the US and its successful role in leading a class action lawsuit there which has paid out more than US$700m to US Mercedes owners. Hagens Berman has also been involved in litigation against Volkswagen in the US where it was found that a comparable defeat device was used and again, the firm also secured substantial compensation for US vehicle owners.

As far back as 2018, and on several occasions since then, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) has required Daimler to conduct mandatory recalls of Mercedes-Benz vehicles with diesel engines in Europe in order to implement an emissions related software update. Fox Williams’ and Hagens Berman’s legal teams have learned that pursuant to a further KBA order in August 2020, Daimler has now added additional models to the recall exercise (see link and list here). Since as recently as 4 September 2020, Mercedes-Benz has been sending out recall notices to UK Mercedes diesel vehicle owners which prescribes an update to engine control unit software in order to help to “further reduce the average nitrogen oxide emissions while driving on the road”. The UK recall process is being overseen by the UK DVLA in compliance with the Code of Practice on Defects in the UK.

Andrew Hill, the Fox Williams partner who is leading the UK based action, comments: “This latest recall exercise is yet further compelling evidence Mercedes diesel and BlueTec vehicles have a nitrogen oxide problem that needs fixing. Any UK vehicle owners that have the software repair are still eligible to join our claimant group given the alleged deception and fraudulent representation occurred at the original point of sale or subsequent purchase.

Michael Gallagher, Co-Managing Director of Hagens Berman UK, comments: “The fact Mercedes is doing this at the instruction of the German Transport Authority is telling. Of further note is the scope of the recall. We believe Mercedes is developing software updates for almost the entire Euro 6b and Euro 5 diesel fleet in Europe and that the cheating impacts more vehicles than we originally thought. We absolutely don’t accept Mercedes’ argument that the emissions control system of US vehicles is materially different to European models.

Fox Williams and Hagens Berman UK had previously appealed to owners of the following Mercedes models powered by BlueTec diesel-fuelled engines and sold from 2008 up to 2018 to register with a view to joining their group action litigation: A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, Citan, CLA, CLS, E-Class, GL-Class, GLA-Class, GLC-Class, GLE-Class, GLS, M-Class, S-Class, SLK, Sprinter, V-Class, and Vito. These models include passenger and commercial vehicles and vans, such as people movers, shuttles and taxis.

Earlier estimates suggested that approx 1.2 million potential claimants owning (or having owned) impacted vehicles purchased in England and Wales have been affected by the Dieselgate scandal, based on Mercedes selling more than 600,000 impacted vehicles here between 2008 and 2018. However, Fox Williams and Hagens Berman now believe this number could be higher if additional models are also likely emitting dirty diesel emissions.

Not only private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire car companies, but also lessees of vehicles affected may be eligible for damages.

Steve Berman, Managing Partner, Hagens Berman and Co-Managing Director Hagens Berman UK comments: “We have already seen Daimler settle with the US authorities and US vehicle owners over its Dieselgate problem. The evidence strongly suggests that Daimler and Mercedes have been involved in similar practices in England and Wales and that British consumers also have a right to compensation for unlawful, deceptive and otherwise defective emission controls implemented by Mercedes.

Andrew Hill adds: “We believe Mercedes vehicle owners and lessees in England and Wales will likely have good claims for losses caused to them from unwittingly owning or leasing dirty diesels. Compensation could be in the range of £5,000 to £10,000 per vehicle.

Those unsure if their Mercedes vehicle is affected by the dirty diesel technology, can contact Fox Williams at www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk.

It is intended the Fox Williams-led group action claim will be conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning that there will be no out-of-pocket cost to sign up to or participate.

# # #

Media Contact: Bell Yard Communications – BellYard@bell-yard.com
Melanie Riley – 07775 591244 – melanie@bell-yard.com
Louise Beeson – 07768 956997 – louise@bell-yard.com
Sarah Peters – 07977 997927 – sarah@bell-yard.com

NOTES TO EDITORS

About Fox Williams
Fox Williams is a leading London City law firm known for its ambition, great culture and good sense. The litigation team is recognised for its independent market position as well as for the quality of its work. The firm’s litigation lawyers advise on a wide range of disputes, employing legal strategies that minimise the risks and realistically assess the potential rewards for clients. Fox Williams has considerable experience in bringing civil fraud claims, and of cutting-edge, high-value group action litigation for institutional investors and shareholders of wrong-doing public companies. For more information, see www.foxwilliams.com.

About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is one of the largest and most renowned plaintiff-side group action law firms in the United States. The firm’s tenacious advocacy for plaintiffs has earned it numerous national accolades, including “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and consistent rankings among a handful of elite plaintiffs’ law firms. More can be found at www.hbsslaw.com.

Hagens Berman originally filed its dirty diesel emissions-cheating litigation against Mercedes in the US on 25 February 2016 and secured a US$ 700m payout on behalf of owners and lessees of affected diesel Mercedes vehicles in August 2020. This settlement is in addition to the further US$1.5 billion settlement and penalty Mercedes must pay the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency.

Hagens Berman was also one of the lead firms that worked to achieve the US$14.7 billion Volkswagen Dieselgate settlement in the US in 2016 (having been the first firm to file suit against Volkswagen in that matter). The firm has also pioneered emissions-cheating litigation against Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors for affected US consumers, and conducted extensive independent research and testing in each case.

Hagens Berman is currently eyeing the potential for bringing further emissions related fraud actions in the European market.

Hagens Berman Media Contact: Ashley Klann +1 206-268-9363 pr@hbsslaw.com

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Communications – The Key to Valuing Public Inquiries

It’s been 15 years since the introduction of the Inquiries Act 2005 in the UK, designed to improve the administration of public inquiries and advance a focus on cost and transparency in the process. Some 28 UK statutory inquiries have since been commissioned – 11 of which are ongoing – at a cost to the public purse of almost £250m, and rising.

Incidents currently being examined include: the tragic loss of life in 2017 when a residential tower block in London caught fire, causing the death of 72 people (Grenfell Tower Inquiry); the 2017 exposé of mistreatment of detainees in a Home Office immigration detention centre (Brook House Inquiry); the infection of haemophiliacs and others with Hep C and HIV from imported contaminated blood in the 1970s-80s (Infected Blood Inquiry); and the death of 22 people in 2017 at the hands of a suicide terrorist at a pop concert (Manchester Arena Inquiry) to name but a few. It can’t be long before a Coronavirus Inquiry is added to the list. Bell Yard declares an interest in two of these vital investigations, among others.

Clearly there is a significant role to play for forensic examinations of ‘matters of public concern’ – not least, as neatly identified many years ago by Lord Howe, the opportunities public inquiries provide for:

– establishing the facts;
– learning from events;
– cathartic exposure;
– reassurance;
– accountability and retribution; and
– political considerations.

As admirable as many of these ends may be, do the benefits outweigh the limitations of their value (such as cost to taxpayers, narrowness of remit, lack of follow-through on recommendations and the temptation to push into the long-grass any resolution of difficult and emotive issues)?

Bell Yard contends that communication lies at the heart of proving an inquiry’s value and here’s why.

The average time it takes for a statutory inquiry to report on its findings is 2.5 years – yet getting to completion is only half the story. In the case of the Infected Blood Inquiry, it took some 30 years of campaigning before the Government of the day accepted the compelling need to commission one.

Persistent and effective communication by the infected and affected, backed by dedicated lawyers, brought us to where we are today – in the midst of a detailed hearing – and continues to ensure that the Inquiry receives the media attention it deserves.

Yet what is the long-lasting significance of a weighty tome, representing the report and recommendations of a public inquiry, if very few members of the public read the content and affected industries fail to adhere to its findings?

In the world of corporate crime, when companies agree a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the Court so as to avoid conviction while promising to clean up their act under the threat of future prosecution, there are conditions attached. Commonly one such stipulation is subjecting the company to future independent monitoring, ensuring they don’t just pay lip-service to undertakings to improve. Monitorships are taken seriously in the US and increasingly so in the UK.

We believe a similar implementation oversight role is needed to enforce public inquiry recommendations. Until such a statutory framework exists, proactive and persistent communications could, and should, play a role. Specialist communicators should exploit the C-Suite concern for corporate social responsibility in order to focus – and maintain – a spotlight on the duties and obligations set out in the findings of a public inquiry, so that its true value can emerge.

Most private companies and public bodies affected by inquiries pour significant resources into managing their public profiles, and say the right thing when the spotlight is on. Yet time and again real action fails to materialise and history repeats itself when lessons remain unlearned. So if the Government won’t establish a mechanism for holding their feet to the fire, despite having originally footed the bill for an extensive inquiry, then communications teams and the media must fill the vacuum.

Well-targeted and tireless campaigns can have both momentum and real impact. Stephen Lawrence’s racially-motivated murder eventually resulted in the MacPherson Inquiry after a long and dignified campaign by his family to bring his killers to justice. The 389-page report delivered in 1999 uncovered institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police Service to which the force is answerable to this day. As a result of her dedicated campaign against racial injustice, Stephen’s mother was ennobled into the House of Lords 20 years after Stephen’s murder.

It may have taken five years to achieve, but the determined objections of many victims of press intrusion (from Royalty, to celebrity, to bereaved families) via criminal, parliamentary and Press Complaints Commission investigations, to name but a few, eventually led to the Leveson Inquiry. Its recommendations, within a 2,000-page report, resulted in the establishment of the Press Recognition Panel in 2014.

Paradoxically, despite it being tabloids on trial throughout Leveson, investigative journalists themselves deserve recognition for their role as the conduit through which public inquiry campaigners hold the responsible to account.

Bell Yard has learned many lessons from our years of advising campaigners and parties involved in both private and public inquiries – perhaps the most important of which is patient persistence. Justice has a way of exerting herself in time – and her value is priceless.

26th October 2020

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Lord David Owen will give evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry as it reopens on Tuesday 22nd September

The UK’s largest ever statutory inquiry, The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, will reopen on Tuesday 22nd September with former Health Minister Lord David Owen due as its first witness of this session.

Lord Owen’s evidence comes ahead of a new 90-minute ITV documentary about the contaminated blood scandal which will air on Sunday 27th September at 22:20pm.

Lord Owen was Minister of State for Health from 1974 – 1976 , pledging that the UK would become self-sufficient in blood products. That never happened, and instead, the UK imported large quantities of Factor VIII from high-risk sources overseas.

Factor VIII is a clotting medication for Haemophilia. It infected around 4,000 people with Hepatitis C in the 1970s/1980s, and over 1,200 of those people were also infected with HIV. At least 1,500 have since died as a result. It is estimated that one victim continues to die every four days.

Now a life peer, Owen has publicly called the scandal a cover-up and has said that legally, “The government hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” His testimony could prove explosive and put on the official record what those impacted have been waiting to hear for decades.

Des Collins (Senior Partner, Collins Solicitors) who represents over 1,500 victims and affected families, comments“The resumption of the Infected Blood Inquiry is a new opportunity for politicians and medical professionals to come clean as to their involvement in the biggest medical scandal in living memory. We applaud Lord Owen for giving his testimony – he has long stated his disapproval of the way Whitehall has treated those who were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s high time successive Health Secretaries and Ministers, each with responsibility for an apparent abrogation of duty, showed similar resolve and came to the Inquiry to give detailed and honest testimony. After some 40 years, the infected and affected deserve to hear the truth from those in charge at the time.

“We also renew our calls for the Government to accept liability and pay immediate, meaningful compensation to all those whose lives have been destroyed by the contaminated blood scandal – the victims and their families have a right to justice now, rather than waiting until the Inquiry reports in a couple of years’ time.”

Jason Evans (Founder of campaign and claimant group Factor 8) said“Victims and families have waited a long time for this moment and I think Lord Owen also has. He has long been a supporter of our campaign and has made several attempts over the years to expose wrong-doing. We hope that following this evidence; the government will not delay any further in accepting its clear liability.”

Hearings take place at Fleetbank House, London, EC4Y 8AE and can also be followed live on the Infected Blood Inquiry website/YouTube channel.

ITV’s “In Cold Blood” is a new 90-minute feature-length documentary in the award-winning Exposure current affairs strand which examines the biggest treatment disaster in NHS history. Directed by Grierson winning documentary maker Marcus Plowright, this documentary investigates claims that thousands of British haemophiliacs were infected and died from HIV and Hepatitis C after being prescribed tainted blood products by the NHS. With access to thousands of previously unpublished documents from inside government – revealing the thinking of its medical, scientific and public health leadership – the film examines claims that warnings were systematically ignored, and that the story was subsequently covered up.

In Cold Blood airs on ITV – Sunday 27th September at 22:20pm

Media enquiries

Bell Yard Communications: 020 7936 2021 – BellYard@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley: 07775 591244 – melanie@bell-yard.com

Louise Beeson: 07768 956997 – louise@bell-yard.com

Sarah Peters: 07977 997927 – sarah@bell-yard.com

Factor 8 claimant group

Jason Evans: 07949 333631 – jason@factor8scandal.uk

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Fox Williams investigates claims against Mercedes over dirty diesel fraud

Fox Williams LLP investigating litigation against Mercedes following US settlements totalling $2.2 billion for dirty diesel emissions fraud

London law firm, Fox Williams, pursuing possible dirty diesel emissions claims for Mercedes owners in England and Wales in collaboration with US law firm, Hagens Berman, which spearheaded an investigation and consumer group action lawsuit leading to more than $700 million for US Mercedes owners.

Fox Williams LLP, in collaboration with US class-action law firm Hagens Berman, is investigating possible claims against Mercedes in England and Wales, with a view to bringing group action litigation for suspected dirty diesel emissions fraud in Mercedes’ line of BlueTEC diesel vehicles, which are believed to pollute at illegal levels resulting in economic and environmental damage.

It is estimated that up to 1.2 million potential claimants owning (or having owned) impacted vehicles in England and Wales are affected, based on Mercedes selling more than 600,000 impacted vehicles here between 2008 and 2018. This includes private owners and businesses, such as fleet operators and hire car companies.

According to Hagens Berman’s investigations, Mercedes programmed its BlueTEC vehicles to release illegally high, dangerous levels of NOx emissions via a defeat device similar to the one used by Volkswagen. This defeat device turned off or limited emissions reductions during real-world driving conditions but not during vehicle emissions tests.

Today’s announcement follows the news last Thursday (13 August) that the US investigation against Mercedes has culminated in a $2.2 billion agreement in principle with the US Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and others including consumers. Hagens Berman’s claim, bolstered by its independent testing and research, will return $700 million or more to US owners of affected Mercedes dirty diesel BlueTEC vehicles.

The size of these settlements in the US (with Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler AG) is, in our opinion, a clear indication that Mercedes-Benz and Daimler have been selling dirty diesel-fuelled cars and vans in the US for many years. The evidence strongly suggests that Daimler and Mercedes have been involved in similar practices in England and Wales. Fox Williams is collaborating with Hagens Berman, the firm that led the successful Dieselgate claims against both Volkswagen and Mercedes in the US, to seek to hold these companies to account in England and Wales for the alleged environmental damage and economic disadvantage which these dirty diesels have caused their customers.

Mercedes owners and lessees in England and Wales who may have dirty diesel emissions claims

Certain of the following Mercedes models powered by BlueTEC diesel-fuelled engines and sold from 2008 up to 2018 are affected by the alleged unlawful, unfair, deceptive and otherwise defective emission controls utilised by Mercedes: A-Class, B-Class, C-Class, Citan, CLA, CLS, E-Class, GL-Class, GLA-Class, GLC-Class, GLE-Class, GLS, M-Class, S-Class, SLK, Sprinter, V-Class, and Vito (however, additional models are also likely emitting dirty diesel emissions). These models include passenger and commercial vehicles and vans, such as people movers, shuttles and taxis.

We believe that Mercedes started committing this alleged fraud in about 2008 and continued for some 10 years.

Fox Williams is investigating claims for business and private owners and lessees of these models in England and Wales.

Fleet owners, private owners and lessees who are unsure if their Mercedes vehicle is affected by the dirty diesel technology, can contact Fox Williams at www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk.

Andrew Hill, the Fox Williams partner who is leading this action, comments: “Like many members of the general public, I have been shocked at the allegations of deception and fraud made against some of the world’s largest and most prestigious automotive manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz. We believe business and private owners in England and Wales will very likely have good claims for the damage caused to them from unwittingly owning or leasing dirty diesels. We are delighted to be collaborating with the team at Hagens Berman, who have been at the forefront of bringing the claims against VW and Mercedes in the US. Hagens Berman will bring to Fox Williams’ case years of in-depth scientific evidence and legal experience from their cases in the US, which will be highly relevant in England, together with their experience of obtaining a successful multi-million dollar settlement from Mercedes-Benz and Daimler.

“As with our securities litigation practice, we see an opportunity to use the group action litigation legal framework which exists here for claimants to hold major corporations to account for their actions, sitting alongside any public enforcement action which regulators in this jurisdiction may choose to take. Hagens Berman has a similar approach and that’s why our collaboration will prove highly effective for those impacted by this apparent fraud this side of the pond.”

Mercedes owners interested in joining our possible claim should be aware that it will be conducted on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning that there will be no out-of-pocket cost to sign up to or participate. More information can be found at: www.mercedes-dieselclaims.co.uk.

US lawsuit serves as “sparkplug” for further claims and litigation in England and Wales

“We’re pleased to see that the US Department of Justice’s investigation, which was spurred by the claim which we brought and our independent studies of Mercedes’ BlueTEC vehicles, will culminate in a just punishment for Mercedes’ deception,” said Steve W. Berman, co-founder and managing partner of Hagens Berman. “It is our belief that our investigation and lawsuit served as the sparkplug for the DOJ’s case and its conclusion of a US$1.5 billion agreement, and we’re hopeful that owners in England and Wales who have been deceived by Mercedes will also be able to obtain compensation. We’re pleased to be collaborating with Fox Williams to help them help those affected by dirty diesel emissions fraud.”

The evidence suggests that Mercedes was committing the same deception in England and Wales, and Mercedes has already been the subject of regulatory sanction and large fines in the EU for using the defeat devices in the cars it was selling in Europe.

If you own a Mercedes BlueTEC vehicle or fleet of affected vehicles, find out more about your rights against Mercedes.

Ends

NOTES TO EDITORS

About Fox Williams

Fox Williams is a leading London City law firm known for its ambition, great culture and good sense. The litigation team is recognised for its independent market position as well as for the quality of its work. The firm’s litigation lawyers advise on a wide range of disputes, employing legal strategies that minimise the risks and realistically assess the potential rewards for clients. Fox Williams has considerable experience in bringing civil fraud claims, and of cutting-edge, high-value group action litigation for institutional investors and shareholders of wrong-doing public companies. For more information, see www.foxwilliams.com

Media Contact
Bell Yard Communications: 020 7936 2021 – BellYard@bell-yard.com

Louise Beeson: 07768 956997 – louise@bell-yard.com

Sarah Peters: 07977 997927 – sarah@bell-yard.com

Melanie Riley: 07775 591244 – melanie@bell-yard.com

About Hagens Berman

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is one of the largest and most renowned plaintiff-side group action law firms in the United States. The firm’s tenacious advocacy for plaintiffs has earned it numerous national accolades, including “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and consistent rankings among a handful of elite plaintiffs’ law firms. More about our law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

Hagens Berman originally filed its dirty diesel emissions-cheating litigation against Mercedes in the US on 25 February 2016, and Hagens Berman was one of the lead firms that worked to achieve the US$14.7 billion Volkswagen Dieselgate settlement in 2016 (having been the first firm to file suit against Volkswagen in that matter). The firm has also pioneered emissions-cheating litigation against Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors for affected consumers, and conducted independent research and testing in each case.

Hagens Berman Media Contact
Ashley Klann: +1 206-268-9363 – pr@hbsslaw.com

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

#BLM: How to Communicate Diversity in Business

Bell Yard Communications’ founder and director, Melanie Riley, was quoted in Financial News, alongside other PR gurus, on the importance of championing racial diversity in companies that have come out in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

***

Engaging on race? You’ve got to do more than add a hashtag

“Don’t make any more excuses. Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent.”

The white words flash across a black screen. A sombre piano plays in the background. Alongside the tweet, Nike says: “Let’s all be part of the change.”

The killing of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, pinned beneath three police officers in Minneapolis on 25 May has sparked anger around the world. The surge in protests since have created an urgency around conversations about race and inequality, bringing them to the fore and eclipsing the Covid-19 pandemic headlines.

Read the rest of the article here.

5th June 2020

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Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

HIGA granted right to intervene in FCA BI Test Case

London’s High Court today granted HIGA – the hospitality sector-wide insurance action group – the right to intervene in the FCA’s test case, which concerns the extent of business interruption coverage afforded to policyholders affected by the UK government’s lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. The group acts for a number of QBE & Aviva policyholders, represented by Sonia Campbell of Mishcon de Reya.

Leading Counsel, Philip Edey QC, of Twenty Essex Chambers represented the HIGA group at today’s second case management conference. The Counsel team also includes Susannah Jones (of Twenty Essex Chambers) and Josephine Higgs (of 7 King’s Bench Walk).

Sonia Campbell, Partner and Head of the Insurance Disputes Practice at Mishcon de Reya LLP, comments:

“We’re grateful to the Court for allowing our application to intervene, to make submissions in the FCA test case hearing in July, insofar as they are relevant to the QBE and Aviva policyholders for whom we act and represent; we are also grateful to the FCA for consenting to our application. Whilst Aviva is not a Defendant to the proceedings, it underwrites a materially similar wording to the Material Damage and Business Interruption Resilience wording that is being tested, which is underwritten by RSA. Our participation will enable us to ensure that points we wish to advance for our clients can be made in the way we wish to make them.”

Any hospitality business that is insured by QBE UK Limited or Aviva Insurance Limited that still wishes to participate in this case should in the first instance email higa@mishcon.com

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371 Investors File £1.3bn Group Action Against HSBC

• HSBC was behind Eclipse investors being told they were going to exploit the rights to a number of Disney’s most popular films, including Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3, National Treasure 2, Enchanted, Underdogs and Confessions of a Shopaholic

• But none of the rights to any of these films were in fact ever to be actively traded or genuinely exploited

• As a result, far from achieving investment returns and legitimate tax deferral, investors have ended up with huge losses and potential liabilities.

Edwin Coe LLP, a UK law firm specialising in fraud and group litigation, this week filed a claim on behalf 371 investors against HSBC UK Bank plc (“HSBC”) for the losses caused by its private bank’s role in the conception, development, and marketing of a series of Disney film financing schemes known as the Eclipse Partnerships (“Eclipse”). The Claimants allege they were induced to invest on the false promise that Eclipse represented a genuine opportunity to invest in blockbuster Disney films and that HSBC is liable for fraud.

HSBC is believed to have received over £25m in fees for its role in Eclipse. In contrast, many investors have entered bankruptcy and/or are facing HMRC demands for millions, sometimes as much as ten times their original investment, on non-existent tax relief or deferrals, simply as a result of investing in these partnerships in good faith.

Eclipse was open to investors between 2006 and 2008 and was marketed as a legitimate, tax efficient, investment. It is believed some 750 individuals including dentists, doctors, accountants, bankers and footballers as well as police officers invested c.£2.3bn of capital in Eclipse, all of whom obtained loans to supplement their investment, the interest on which was to be covered by the eventual return on their film exploitation rights investment.

However, no trade in film rights were ever actually made by Eclipse with Disney.

“It is now clear Eclipse was a passive pass through model via which the rights to Disney’s films circled back to the studio. Eclipse was a sham investment opportunity,” comments David Greene, Senior Partner at Edwin Coe LLP.

“Although the investment was touted as having the blessing of leading tax counsel, the conduct of these schemes veered away from that advice,” David Greene continues. “It appears the investments made by our clients were simply transferred between funder and Disney entities in a circular, self-cancelling fashion. It was a risk-free income stream for Disney, HSBC and the lending banks – but financially catastrophic for its unwitting investors. At no point did Eclipse actually exploit, or otherwise trade in, any meaningful film rights of any value from Disney.”

Retired policeman and lead claimant Chris Upham comments:

“My wife and I were attracted by an opportunity to invest in films which had the backing of major banks, Disney and City tax lawyers. It seemed a great opportunity and exciting to be involved with blockbuster films. My wife and I invested £25,000 of our own money in 2007.

“It was marketed to us by professionals and seemed totally above board. It is beyond disappointing to discover that the investment was not as it had been purported to be, In simple terms, we have been deceived. To find out that a bank like HSBC was sitting behind all this increases the anger we feel at having been cheated. The whole thing became an absolute horror story when the taxman demanded tax at stratospheric levels resulting from HSBC’s management of the investment – yet we didn’t earn a bean and our money has been lost.

“It is outrageous that once-revered institutions such as HSBC can behave in such a dishonest way in pursuit of profit but we’re the ones being chased by the taxman, in some cases into bankruptcy.”

The current claimant group is seeking in excess of £1.3bn in loss and damages. Trial is not expected to be heard until 2021 at earliest.

Other Eclipse investors not yet party to the group action are invited to join by contacting Edwin Coe on Thomas.Johnson@edwincoe.com.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:
The Eclipse scheme’s architects were Neil Bowman, formerly of HSBC Private Bank UK, and Tim Levy, of Future Capital Partners Ltd, a UK company, which purported to provide film advisory services to investors and is now in voluntary liquidation. In 2009, having profited from the Eclipse schemes, HSBC shut down the team in its Private Bank division that was dedicated to activities that included marketing this improper investment.

TAX-DEFERRAL STRUCTURES BACKGROUND:
Tax-deferral structures in film investment were established by Rt Hon Gordon Brown’s government and were intended to encourage investment in the UK film industry (via Section 42 of the Finance (No 2) Act 1992 and section 48 of the Finance Act 1997). Investors in authorised film finance schemes could offset the investment against their taxable income from other sources received across a number of tax years using sideways loss relief under section 380 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 (ICTA 1988) (latterly section 64 of the Income Taxes Act 2007), and expenditure incurred in such venture was treated as revenue expenditure rather than capital expenditure and so could be deducted from income.

After the Finance Act 1997, a common way to access these reliefs was through a leveraged sale-and-leaseback structure by which a film was acquired from a film studio by a special purpose partnership and then leased back to the studio over a period of time, usually 15 years. Investors would qualify for a deferral of tax for that period of time. To maximise their tax relief, investors would often borrow to fund their capital investment in the relevant partnership.

Section 125 of the Finance Act 2004 and section 73 of the Finance Act 2005 amended ICTA 1988 to curtail the tax relief granted under sections 42 of the 1992 Act and section 48 of the 1997 Act. Relief was further curtailed by the removal of references to films in the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005 (ITTOIA 2005).

In broad terms, the cumulative effect of these restrictions was that sideways loss relief became limited to those actively involved in film rights exploitation. This precluded the original sale-and-leaseback structure from attracting relief because, in those structures, investors were passive and not actively carrying on a trade in exploiting films.
The Eclipse Partnerships were conceived, developed and marketed by HSBC as a solution to the narrowing of tax relief for film finance schemes.

Unbeknown to investors, the transactions actually undertaken by Eclipse failed to adhere to what was promised. Far from providing a tax deferral opportunity by way of legitimate trade (see the Court of Appeal’s decision in Eclipse Film Partners No 35 LLP v HM Revenue and Customs [2015] EWCA Civ 95, the exploitation rights to certain blockbuster Disney films, such as Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3, were never acquired by the Eclipse Partnerships or its operators, HSBC and Future Capital Partners (the film advisory entity involved) – contrary to assertions made in the marketing materials. Quite simply there was no exploitation of the films’ rights by Eclipse at all and therefore no revenue stream.

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Mishcon Advances Group Claim for Dental Practices

• Specifically for QBE BI Policyholders
• Interest to be registered at dentalclaims@mishcon.com by Friday 19 June 2020

Dental practices with business interruption (BI) insurance policies underwritten by QBE today are offered a viable collective route to litigation in circumstances where their Covid-19-related claims have been rejected by their insurer.

Leading law firm, Mishcon de Reya LLP, announces it has received agreement in principle from an experienced and well-capitalised litigation funder to fund a group claim against QBE for dental practices who have suffered business interruption losses relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mishcon’s litigation offering to dentists comes on the back of similar group claims on which it is currently advising: the Hiscox Action Group and hospitality sector-focused claims against Aviva and QBE. Mishcon is working with a specialist insurance Leading Counsel, Jeffrey Gruder QC of Essex Court Chambers; they believe that claims under the QBE dental practice policies are ripe for challenge.

Sonia Campbell, Partner and Head of the Insurance Disputes Practice at Mishcon de Reya LLP, comments: “The issue for dentists is similar in many ways to that experienced by the other businesses whom we also advise. Dental practice owners responsibly insured themselves against the risk of financial losses, including from notifiable diseases and yet, just like those in other trades, soon learned that their claims have been rejected. Practice owners provide an invaluable service to patients in their local communities. We hope by supporting dental practices we can help them restore their vital businesses to full health.”

To express interest in joining a dental group claim against QBE, dental practice owners with Business Interruption insurance policies insured by QBE (Office Insurance Policy) should email
dentalclaims@mishcon.com by no later than 19 June 2020 to be included in the potential claim.

Ends

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Mishcon de Reya’s Insurance team has already undertaken to advise on three separate claims relating to insurers’ refusal to honour claims under their business interruption policies – the insurers concerned are Hiscox, Aviva and QBE.

Cost: There is no cost to dental businesses to participate at this stage. If a claim is progressed and is successful, the third party funder is paid by taking an agreed deduction from any compensation secured at the end of the litigation. Most reassuringly, if the claim is unsuccessful, the litigation funder covers all legal expenses, so there is very limited financial risk to Group members.

Claim size: There is no current limit on the number of potential participants in a group claim – interested parties should simply indicate their interest to Mishcon de Reya by 19 June 2020.

Process: Mishcon de Reya will respond to each interested business seeking their formal instruction (with no obligation on fees) setting out the terms on which any litigation would proceed. All the costs of litigation are met by the funder (including all legal fees). The funder receives its remuneration by way of a percentage of the funds awarded following a successful claim.

About Bell Yard: Bell Yard Communications is advising on the creation of this litigation group. We are a boutique London-based specialist litigation and legal PR agency, founded in 2002. Bell Yard has been top ranked (Band 1) by Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide every year since the guide’s formation for our litigation PR expertise.

About Mishcon de Reya: the firm has acted on a number of group actions including but not limited to: Taxi drivers against Uber, shareholders against RBS, Royal Mail (tax litigation) and an action against Google. Mishcon is also currently advising the Hiscox Action Group and HIGA (the Hospitality Insurance Group Action).

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HIGA Focuses Hospitality Group Litigation On AVIVA & QBE

Mishcon Focuses HIGA Group Litigation On Two Insurers – QBE and Aviva – and invites all hospitality industry businesses with relevant policies to join intended group action by Friday 5 June 2020.

HIGA – the hospitality sector-wide action group today announces that its legal advisors, Mishcon de Reya, in conjunction with Leading Counsel, Philip Edey QC, of Twenty Essex Chambers, have completed their comprehensive review of over 500 business interruption insurance policies, submitted by applicants between 29 April and 6 May 2020.

The legal team has now determined that the specific coverage clauses within policies underwritten by Aviva Insurance Limited and QBE (UK) Limited, are those which HIGA is best advised to challenge through a group claim. The relevant policy wording for Aviva Insurance Limited is its Material Damage & Business Interruption Policy. The relevant QBE policy wordings are: PHOT010419 (Hotel Insurance Policy), PLSC010419 (Leisure Combined), PBCC170619 (Business Combined Insurance Policy) and PNML010119 (Nightclub and Late Night Venue Policy).

HIGA is now writing to all its applicants inviting only those policyholders with these insurers and specified types of policy wordings to confirm that they remain interested in participating in a funded group claim (its first category of HIGA registrants).

HIGA is also inviting any business in the hospitality industry not already registered with HIGA, but which has sought to claim under its business interruption policy with QBE and Aviva and has thus far been ignored or thwarted, now to join HIGA by registering here. Such businesses may include hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and leisure businesses.

All existing HIGA registrants will be directly contacted to explain whether it is thought that their policies potentially offer coverage or not, however only those with the specific policies detailed above will be eligible to participate in the intended HIGA-led group action.

Sonia Campbell, Partner and Head of the Insurance Disputes Practice at Mishcon de Reya LLP, comments:

“We were overwhelmed by the expressions of interest in bringing actions against insurers from within the hospitality industry – demonstrating how hard-hit this sector has been as a result of the government-enforced lock-down and how intransigent many in the insurance industry have been towards their policyholders.

“The decision to limit a potential HIGA legal challenge to just two insurers with specific wordings was always going to be difficult and we recognise many HIGA applicants will be disappointed we are unable to act for them. However we have sought to protect their rights by contacting the FCA on their behalf, potentially affording them the opportunity to engage with the test case the FCA is to bring against as yet unspecified insurers. We wish this cohort every success.

“Whilst we are unable to act for all HIGA applicants, we do consider that many of these policyholders may want to explore other avenues of redress, including through the FCA and the Financial Ombudsman Scheme.

“Meantime, we are contacting those HIGA applicants insured by Aviva and QBE and inviting them to confirm their continued interest in participating in a group claim.

“We also encourage any other business in this sector – with a specifically-worded business interruption policy underwritten by Aviva or QBE – to contact us by no later than Friday 5th June should they wish to consider participating in HIGA’s group action. We believe this is the best way to ensure some financial recompense for these policyholders following their sudden and enforced closure.”

Mishcon de Reya is in discussions with third party funders to secure funding for the costs of this litigation and expects to be able to move forward by Wednesday 10 June, with the aim of issuing a claim as soon as possible thereafter.

Ends


NOTES TO EDITORS:

Process: Mishcon de Reya fulfilled its commitment to review the insurance policies of those registering interest in this group action by the end of May. These policies have since been categorised and Mishcon is in the process of informing all HIGA registrants into which category their policies belong. Mishcon hopes to have funding in place by 10 June 2020 to commence proceedings during July.

About Mishcon de Reya: the firm has acted on a number of group actions including but not limited to: Taxi drivers against Uber, shareholders against RBS, Royal Mail (tax litigation) and an action against Google. Mishcon is also currently advising the Hiscox Action Group.

About Bell Yard: Bell Yard Communications established and administers HIGA. We are a boutique London-based litigation and legal PR agency, founded by Melanie Riley in 2002. We have a long-established record of advising clients involved in disputes and litigation. In consecutive years since the guide’s formation, Bell Yard is top ranked Band 1 by Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide – achieving recognition from clients, the legal profession and peers alike.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Craig Beevers Statement re FMSB Claim

BEEVERS v FICC MSB & Otrs
LONDON CENTRAL EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL
CRAIG BEEVERS’ STATEMENT

Mr Craig Beevers, responding to last Friday evening’s Employment Tribunal ruling in respect of FICC Market Standards Boards (FMSB’s) strike-out application, which was rejected said:

“I welcome this ruling which allows my case against the FMSB, Mr Mark Yallop, Mr Charles Nicols and Mr Stephen O’Connor to proceed to a full trial.

“I remain resolute in my determination to expose extraordinary governance failings and various improper shenanigans at the head of what purports to be a body established to set standards of good practice for the wholesale fixed income market.

“I maintain I was ousted after being subjected to unreasonable and inappropriate pressure to withdraw from giving expert evidence in a case against FMSB member Deutsche Bank, and then blowing the whistle over that pressure. I will be asserting at trial that I (and others) were clearly told by the Chairman, Mark Yallop, that there was no conflict between my role as an expert witness to the court and my position at FMSB. My expert witness work was known to, and permitted by, the FMSB. There can be no conflict of interest in my offering reasoned witness testimony about market practice no matter the parties to a case: after all, the Board is supposed to operate for the good of the market, not simply for the interests of its bank members.

“Blowing the whistle on misconduct can feel like an isolating endeavour. However, I believe I will be far from alone in decrying the behaviour of the Board’s management when the full facts come to light at trial.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Mr Beevers’ claim was filed in July 2019 at London Central Employment Tribunal. The Respondents’ strike-out application was heard on 9, 10 & 13 January 2020. The decision on this application was handed down on Friday 15 May.

Mr Beevers is represented by Fox Williams LLP (Partner Jane Mann and Associate Ed Livingstone) and by Counsel Alice Mayhew of Devereux Chambers.

The case will now go to full trial at London Central and is listed for January 2021.

18th May 2020

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Bell Yard launches HIGA with Mishcon as legal advisers

For immediate release: 29 April 2020

Mishcon Advises “Hospitality Insurance Group Action” to hold insurers to account for UK business interruption policies

A new hospitality sector-wide action group is being launched today to hold insurance companies to account for policy pay-outs arising from lockdown and Covid-19 related losses.

Hospitality Insurance Group Action (“HIGA”) is open to businesses which have been forced to close within the sector, including hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and leisure businesses, if their insurance company is silent or refusing to honour policies relating to business interruption due to this pandemic and the lockdown. Any collective claim by HIGA against the insurance industry is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds, notwithstanding often inadequate policy limits, such is the extent of members’ financial damage.

Leading litigation law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP (“Mishcon”), has agreed to advise HIGA on the parameters of bringing a collective group action against a range of insurers. Mishcon has secured external funding to cover the policy review exercise and is working with Philip Edey QC, of Twenty Essex Chambers.

There is no cost to any UK hospitality business to register with HIGA to have their existing business interruption insurance policy reviewed by Mishcon.

Trevor Ayling, owner of five Renoufs Cheese and Wine Bars in Dorset and Hampshire and HIGA registrant said:

“We’re a family-run, local independent group of award winning restaurants and feel a huge sense of duty to our community and loyal customers; we want to be able to reopen for them as much as for our staff and family, as soon as restrictions ease. In light of the difficult circumstances, we decided to claim on our insurance policy and have tried every way to get our insurer to respond – to no avail. A pay-out on our policy would go some way to making reopening a reality, helping to secure Renoufs’ future.

“We are aware others are similarly affected and, like us, don’t have the money to fight when claims are ignored or denied, as legal support can run into hundreds of thousands. So we jumped at being an early participant in what’s become HIGA – it meant we got our policy wording reviewed for free and the chance of fighting to recover at least a proportion of our losses.

“I will be urging others in the hospitality industry to look at HIGA – we need to stand united to be counted.”

Fellow HIGA registrant Dan Fox, Managing Director of Craft Locals (owner of 3 North London pubs) commented:

“If insurers don’t come through, this will have a devastating impact on not only the business and its continued survival, but the livelihood of the fantastic team members that we employ, and the local communities of which we form such an integral part.

“Our pubs not only offer a fantastic range of food and drinks but are hubs of the local community. We host everything from local book clubs, neighbourhood watch meetings, baby first aid classes to unsigned local music acts. We will do everything in our power to renew these activities and right now we’re hoping HIGA can help us get our insurers to do the right thing.”

Sonia Campbell, Partner and Head of the Insurance Disputes Practice at Mishcon de Reya LLP, comments:

“Hospitality sector businesses, large and small, have been particularly hard hit by the government-enforced closure during this pandemic and desperately need to mitigate their losses. In times of crisis they expect their insurance to respond. Yet I am hearing time and time again that insurers are either stone-walling, unfairly limiting or simply point-blank refusing to pay out under business interruption policies. This strikes us as something that is open to challenge. I look forward to assisting all members of HIGA in exploring the possibility of a group claim. There may well be some light at the end of this industry’s very dark tunnel.”

To express interest in joining HIGA, business owners should register their details at www.HIGAction.com so that a free-of-charge preliminary assessment can made of their insurance policy and specifically whether Covid-19 lockdown-related losses are covered within their business interruption clauses

Ends

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Case Studies: fuller statements from individual business owners Trevor Ayling and Dan Fox, photographs and interviews are available on request.

Eligibility: Any business interruption policyholders whose current insurance contract includes non-physical damage extensions to cover and is governed by English law are eligible to participate by having their policy reviewed by Mishcon – whether customers of Axa, China Taiping, RSA, Touchstone, Zurich or any other insurance provider (except Hiscox – see below).

Cost: There is no cost to businesses to participate at this stage. If a claim is progressed and is successful, the third party funder is paid by taking an agreed deduction from any compensation secured at the end of the litigation. Most reassuringly, if the claim is unsuccessful, the litigation funder covers all legal expenses, so there is very limited financial risk to Group members.

Group size: There is no current limit on the number of potential HIGA members – but this will be reviewed to ensure enquiry levels are manageable.

Process: Mishcon de Reya says it hopes to review the insurance policies of those registering interest in a group action by the end of May. Having reviewed the policies, the wordings are likely to fall into distinct groups, which will enable Mishcon to assess how best to bring a group claim.

Hiscox Claims: a separate group exists for all Hiscox claimants – Hiscox policy holders should contact the Hiscox Action Group for further enquiries.

About Bell Yard: Bell Yard Communications established and administers HIGA. We are a boutique London-based litigation and legal PR agency, founded by Melanie Riley in 2002. We have a long-established record of advising clients involved in disputes and litigation. In consecutive years since the guide’s formation, Bell Yard has been top ranked Band 1 by Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide – achieving recognition from clients, the legal profession and peers alike.

About Mishcon de Reya: the firm has acted on a number of group actions including but not limited to: Taxi drivers against Uber, shareholders against RBS, Royal Mail (tax litigation) and an action against Google. Mishcon is also currently advising the Hiscox Action Group.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Comms in the age of Covid-19

Covid-19 hasn’t been good to Sir Richard Branson. A once much-loved public figure, Branson was voted Britain’s favourite businessman in the noughties. His image no doubt played a part in securing this accolade. A self-made billionaire, Branson challenged society’s stereotype of what it meant to be a businessman – he is eccentric, fun-loving, tie-loathing, and rubs shoulders with A-listers on his private Caribbean hideaway.

However, the image that worked wonders for Branson during peacetime has done him few favours in the current crisis. After he called on the UK government to bail out Virgin Atlantic with a £500 million loan, some have bestowed a new title on Britain’s “most popular businessman” – now “tax-dodging, NHS-robbing scum,” and a “traitor to his country,” among other choice epithets. An online petition to strip Branson of his knighthood is rapidly attracting signatures. Oh, the joys of social media!

Even in the best of times, crass displays of wealth by public figures are hard to relate to, but the effect is magnified tenfold during a worldwide pandemic – not least when it involves a self-proclaimed ‘tax exile’ who sued the NHS and is now seeking UK state aid to save his airline, which happens to be 49% owned by a US airline. It’s no surprise that in recent articles covering the airline’s woes, the British press have published pictures of Branson posing with scantily-clad models on his luxury island idyll or in front of his latest aircraft. Nothing says “we’re all in this together” like an image of Richard Branson blasting into space in his Virgin Galactic rocket. 

Of course, the internet hasn’t helped Branson’s cause, allowing ready access to decade-old articles in which he’s quoted as urging the then PM, Gordon Brown, to stand firm against using British taxpayers’ money to bail out British Airways. 

Branson’s fall from grace has important lessons for reputation managers. Now, more than ever, we must keep attuned to the tide of public opinion which can turn in an instant. Several considerations are key: what actions in today’s unprecedented climate are being applauded and which chastised? How to show a sharing, caring side of commercial enterprise, without looking like you are simply chasing the plaudits and trying too hard? What measures should company leaders take personally to protect their business? While Branson has experienced the downside of social media, on the plus side, it’s a very useful bellwether of the mood of the nation and allows companies to react nimbly and far more appropriately. 

The coming months will determine whether Virgin Atlantic can survive the economic storm created by Covid-19. As for Branson’s reputation, recovery may take a little longer; judging by Virgin Group’s swift response to a scathing attack on the mogul by Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, it seems Branson isn’t wasting any time. 

25th April 2020

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CLCA International Summit: reflections from Amsterdam

Despite all the shenanigans of Brexit, Bell Yard was grateful to receive a warm welcome from European colleagues last week at the annual meeting of the CLCA network (Crisis & Litigation Communicators Alliance), held in Amsterdam.

Brexit was, of course, a key topic with other member firms asking how it is affecting our business, our workplace and our families. (Answer – it will probably spurn litigation down the line, but as for many firms, opinion is divided amongst staff and our families on the issue). It was reassuring to hear that the EU will miss us, at least according to those in the room! 

The meeting also dealt with a lot of other interesting topics – for example: 

• The difference between crisis management and crisis communications.

• How far Litigation PR has developed as a concept in different markets – clearly much more so in the US than say, in Poland, but we agreed lawyer education is still required in each market while new trends and developments emerge. 

• Cultural differences influence attitudes to Litigation PR – in Asia there may be more reticence to engage with interviews compared to, say, the US.

• The increasingly prevalent role of litigation funders in the world of disputes across many jurisdictions and how that may, or may not, affect PR considerations.

• Where class actions are on the rise and what PR lessons can be learned from other jurisdictions. 

We also heard from several academics and lawyers whose work overlaps with ours and who offered some fascinating insights – for example:

• English speaking commercial courts in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris are unashamedly looking to attract disputes away from the UK post-Brexit (the B-word again!).

• Some sophisticated corporates look to litigation to advance their strategic and commercial objectives, not just for dispute resolution. 

• In the US there are now professional plaintiffs who buy a product or engage in activity purely to ensure they can participate in litigation.

• We are seeing a growth worldwide in climate-related litigation (not just against governments, but now against investors, companies and insurers) and privacy-related litigation.

• Frivolous class actions are actually rare. 

Bell Yard left the meeting inspired and heartened that we have wise and expert colleagues around the world to call on if our clients should ever require their counsel – from Australia to Indonesia and from Washington to Copenhagen. The CLCA has gone from strength to strength in recent years and our quest for global reach continues!

9 October 2019

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Language, Timothy!

In an effort to attract hearts and minds, words matter. 

I’m confident I’m not alone in feeling deep dismay at the debasement of dialogue among politicians, blithely following the crude degradation of our language by ever-increasing sections of the fourth estate. My great fear is this trend finds its way into the nation’s court rooms – perhaps soon to be practised by judiciary and advocate alike? Please no!

I was particularly struck by the depths we’ve plunged, when contrasting the final session in the Commons before prorogation, with a statement by the then PM Gordon Brown sending condolences to his opposite number, Mr Cameron on the death of his son. Brown even cancelled PMQs as a mark of respect. Yet, merely a decade on, The Guardian saw fit to dismissively describe Cameron’s bereavement as “privileged pain”. While an outcry rightly ensued, leading to the column’s withdrawal and an apology, the fact that one of our few remaining national newspapers saw fit to publish a leader so lacking in common decency or empathy, is nonetheless disturbing.

Social media may be the greatest driver of another trend – that of waning political rhetoric, as attention spans shorten amidst a fight for attention and influence. Of course politicians crave time in the spotlight, believing it assists their vote-winning potential. But forgive me for fearing that the days are gone of true erudition emanating from the green benches, no matter which side of the divide, such is the rancour over Brexit. Shouting “dictator”, “flying flamingo”, “liar” or “thug” across the floor (wholly un-parliamentary), does little to endear constituents to their MPs, let alone garner respect for their work. Ministerial use of “some might say” to sow seeds of disquiet among the populace to discredit judicial decisions is as appalling as some of the insults on twitter coming from MPs themselves!

Among this cacophony and onslaught on my sensitive ears, perhaps silencing parliament for a while was not such a bad thing! 

If there’s one institution that must surely still be prevailed upon to uphold public standards – not only in word but also in deed – please, please let it be our justice system, of whom many of us moderates remain resolutely proud.

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Opposing a pose

Amid the explosive political developments this week surrounding the House of Commons’ vote to rule out a no-deal Brexit, one image above all lingers in the mind: that of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging languidly on the Conservative front bench during a crucial debate.

Lambasted and mocked by Opposition MPs, in the media, and online, for embodying arrogance, entitlement and contempt of Parliament, the image went viral and sparked a host of memes. In some of the more memorable ones, Rees-Mogg was Photoshopped onto graphs showing the decline of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary majority and fall in the Sterling/dollar exchange rate, pictured wearing a nightcap and clutching a Teddy bear, and featured in an advertisement for a new Ikea ‘Mögg’ sofa. 

This reaction to the Leader of the House of Commons’ supine pose highlights the impact – and importance – of body language. 

In an oft-quoted study, Albert Mehrabian determined that body language (including posture, gestures, eye contact and facial expression) contributes to 55% of the communication of a message, followed by tone of voice (pitch, inflection etc) at 38%, with words themselves representing just 7%. Another study, by Ray Birdwhistell, found that the non-verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is more than 65%. 

While these figures are subject to debate, it is clear that mastering non-verbal communication – whether in a media interview, meeting or simply in everyday conversation – is critical. 

Body language is a powerful communications tool: when aligned with your words and vocal delivery, it will reinforce your message to your audience(s). But if it conflicts with what you say, it will undermine your argument and call your credibility into question. 

At Bell Yard we will help you to develop not just your strategy and content, but crucially, to practise its delivery too. 

We understand that it’s not just what you say, important as this is, but also how you say it. 

5 September 2019

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

The Singapore Convention on Mediation

The Singapore Convention on Mediation, which opened for signature on 7th August, marked a defining moment in the Alternative Dispute Resolution world on a scale not seen since the introduction of the New York Arbitration Convention in 1959. Backed by 46 countries to date, including the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, the Convention provides – for the first time – a route to enforcement of mediated outcomes for cross-border commercial disputes. 

The Singapore Ministry of Law certainly pulled out all the stops to welcome representatives from over 50 countries to the signing ceremony, alongside various conference sessions on the virtues of an effective global environment for mediation.

Most legal professionals will agree that the strength of mediation lies in its collaborative approach. Both parties must reach a mutually agreeable outcome – a process, hopefully, free from rancour or malignancy. 

There’s also the added financial bonus – settling disputes swiftly via mediation cuts out costs associated with arbitration or litigation, such as in instructing senior counsel. 

But the benefits don’t stop there. As any seasoned PR professional will tell you, opting for mediation means disputes can be settled outside the censorious public eye. Often media choose to cast one party as the villain, another the victim – a labelling not always entirely based on the merits of each case. Fighting a PR war whilst trying to litigate, is an unenviable position to be in so there’s an attraction in privately mediated outcomes. To date the problem has been in enforcement – however the greater the number of countries committing to signing the Convention, the surer the chances of enforcement. We are confident the Singapore Convention will continue to attract support.

Far be it for us to herald the decline in litigation and related PR services, but it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment that mediating might both save you a few bob and safeguard your reputation. 

19 August 2019

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Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Diversity takes centre stage: Top 6 legal social mobility initiatives

The Sutton Trust recently published a report which found that 65% of the most senior barristers in the UK are drawn from fee-paying schools. Though the findings of the report were blasted by the legal profession, it got us wondering – does the legal industry do enough to ensure that students of non-traditional backgrounds can access the highest echelons of the profession? 

As the discourse advocating greater social mobility gains momentum, it seems the legal world is beginning to take heed by introducing a range of initiatives designed to encourage pupils of non-traditional backgrounds to enter the law. 

Here are Bell Yard’s top six diversity initiatives – both old and new – launched by law firms, barristers’ chambers, and charities, that are helping to change the face of the legal profession. 

1. Kingsley Napley – The Legal Apprentice 

Kingsley Napley* have inaugurated an exciting competition aimed at year-12 students across the UK, which, in its first year, saw 902 teams from 308 schools sign up. Teams worked together through a series of three tasks testing their legal and interpersonal skills. The final, which was held at News UK in June, saw the victorious duo from St Mary’s Grammar School Magherafelt, proudly take home the winning trophy and (subject to passing an interview) a legal apprenticeship – offering them a debt-free pathway into the law. *full disclosure: Kingsley Napley is a Bell Yard client

2. Linklaters – Virtual Reality Internship

Perhaps one of the leading international firms for trailblazing diversity initiatives, Linklaters has introduced a variety of programmes over the years to give students a taste of what life is like in a magic circle law firm (minus the gruelling hours). Our favourite is the firm’s new ‘virtual reality’ legal internship, “Linklaters Virtual Programme”, a free online internship for university students, which enables users to undertake a range of tasks that mimic those of a solicitor – from leaving voicemails for clients to pitching to a group of banks. 

3. Inner Temple – Pegasus Access and Support Scheme

Inner Temple has pioneered a scheme which enables students from underrepresented backgrounds to gain the work experience necessary to become a barrister. The scheme secures mini-pupillages for students from disadvantaged upbringings and covers the costs of travel and accommodation. Set up in 2012, the scheme has since taken on board hundreds of students and, in the words of one successful applicant, it gives an “insight to life at the Bar and a perfect opportunity to make many new connections from students to barristers and members of staff within Inner Temple”. 

4. Young Citizens

Sticking with barristers, Young Citizens, a charity which encourages young people to learn more about the law, offers mock trial experiences for school-age children. The trials, which cater for those aged 12-18, give pupils the opportunity to understand more about the legal profession by participating in trials themselves, as witnesses, lawyers and clerks amongst other roles. Clearly the charity recognises the value of targeting school-age pupils, allowing them to make better, more informed decisions about their future. 

5. Big Voice London

In the same vein, Big Voice London runs a variety of projects which help students to find out more about the legal profession. One standout programme involves students being assisted by the Law Commission over a three month period to produce a report which mirrors the type of work undertaken by the Commission itself. In the past, the reports have examined a range of legal issues from those related to divorce law to automated vehicles. The programme concludes with a prestigious event in Parliament attended by lawyers and politicians assembled to hear the views of the students. 

6.  Kings Chambers

When a city law firm partner recently told trainees not to wear brown shoes with a blue suit, he was lambasted by the press for his lack of tact and conservatism. But image is important in the world of work– as Kings Chambers recognises – which is why it is partnering with youth leadership organisation, RECLAIM, to provide eight young people from working-class communities the opportunity to enhance their employability skills with a placement at the chambers and awarding them a £100 allowance to buy suitable clothing for their placement. Not too shabby at all. 

1 August 2019

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Better kept under wraps?

The recent news that Linklaters obtained an injunction preventing its former CMO from sharing information to expose the firm’s alleged struggle with women in the workplace gave us food for thought. Is it always better to keep your dirty laundry out of the public eye? 

From a reputational perspective the answer is, usually, yes. Faced with the option of being vilified by the media exposing such stories, it’s easy to see why a firm would choose to try to stay quiet. The public consuming any such media reports begins to form a view of the company or firm at the heart of the matter, its culture and attitudes of those at the top with responsibility for setting the tone – as well as judging its reaction to complaints from within. Stories also influence the perceptions of partners, employees, future candidates, suppliers, clients, and regulators alike.

In this instance of course, Linklaters didn’t succeed in quelling the whiff of dirty laundry altogether. Whilst the firm may have kept the details under wraps via means of litigation, the impression remains of an institution with a problem. Injunctions are a risky tool and can sometimes have the contrary effect of drawing attention to the very thing the injuncting party is trying to downplay.

Consider the alternative strategy. Had Linklaters allowed the exposé without looking to silence the messenger, might it actually have created an opportunity? It could have redefined the firm into a #MeToo trailblazer, offering a sincere, robust and public response and highlighted positive action by the firm, illustrating to the public both its abhorrence of an outmoded culture and determination to demonstrate there are consequences for those, no matter how senior or important to the firm, who transgress a newly-implemented zero tolerance policy. Compulsory training and education on expectations could have been rolled out across the firm – yes there would likely have been howls of disapproval from within, at the suggestion that everyone should need to be taught basic behaviour – but then going forward, the onus would fall onto the individual rather than the firm, to defend an accusation that their conduct had fallen short of norms that they should have known was expected.

Sadly Linklaters didn’t take such a bold and forward-looking view. Just think if this giant of law firms had set such a precedent, it might not only have earned a very different reputation on this topic but perhaps the rest of the legal community would have sat up, smelled the coffee, bowed to peer pressure and followed suit.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

A lesson in sincerity

Gillette’s newest advert, launched last week, created a media storm – but for all the wrong reasons. The advert, riding off the wave of the #MeToo movement proudly calls for an end to ‘toxic masculinity’ depicting men catcalling, groping and coercively controlling women. The backlash is understandable. Making insulting generalisations about the conduct of your primary customer base isn’t usually what one would consider an effective marketing technique. But perhaps the bigger issue at hand is the question of whether it’s ever wise for a brand to align itself with a socio-political movement?

Well yes – provided the context is right. A jeweller like Tiffany’s can promote a campaign calling for conflict-free diamonds because the brand tells us it is committed to selling conflict-free diamonds. Likewise, outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia can encourage its customers to buy sustainable apparel because the brand claims to be committed to reducing environmental destruction through organic farming and land preservation. 

But Gillette – a brand which, among others in its industry, has historically and continues to face accusations of ripping women off, by charging more for their female-focused products than for those aimed at their male counterparts – despite many of the products being near identical – doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Perhaps they should have set their sights on helping abolish the ‘Pink Tax’ before they tackled toxic male conduct – after all, the economic exploitation of women is itself just another form of gender inequality. 

It’s a lesson relevant for any organisation when choosing a CSR initiative: look closely at the values that underpin your organisation, because sincerity always pays in the end.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Personal Support Unit launches fundraising appeal to expand vital services following legal aid cuts

The Personal Support Unit (PSU) has revealed plans to assist Litigants in Person more than 80,000 times over the coming year (2019/20).

The PSU, which was established in 2001, relies on a team of 755 dedicated volunteers* across 23 courts in England and Wales to help litigants who are unable to afford legal representation by sorting through paperwork, organising case notes and attending court hearings, giving litigants the confidence to represent themselves in court.

63% of PSU-assisted cases last year were family related, involving either divorce or child custody – an area particularly hard hit by legal aid reductions resulting in the closure of advice centres and increased court fees. The charity also supports individuals facing immigration, housing, employment and bankruptcy court hearings.

From April 2018 to March 2019, the PSU had 75,432 contacts with individuals. Out of a total of 7,869 users surveyed, 99% felt “better prepared” for their court hearings following support from the PSU, and significantly, 97% of 4,734 respondents felt the PSU had helped them get a “fairer hearing.”

As part of its expansion, the PSU launched a free, confidential helpline in March this year, which has so far received 2,892 calls from litigants seeking support.**

To fund this and other services the charity offers, The Rt Hon The Baroness Hale of Richmond, President of the Supreme Court and Patron of the PSU, will take part in a BBC Radio 4 appeal aired throughout Sunday 28th July.

Peter Crisp, Chair of the PSU, said:

“Almost half of us will use the justice system at some point in our lives. The PSU’s purpose is to help some of the most vulnerable in society to access justice. Almost 50% of individuals we assist are unemployed and sadly 25% have mental health problems or a physical disability.”
He adds: “Despite our growth, we know there are many Litigants in Person who still have nowhere to turn to, which is why we are striving to expand our services to reach more people. We receive amazing support from the legal profession and we currently have 22 fantastic corporate partners who support us with regular giving. We are hoping to increase this number to 30 by 2020 to ensure the PSU can continue to deliver vital support to litigants facing court alone.”

ENDS

Note to Editors

About the PSU

The PSU is an award-winning organisation with around 755 dedicated volunteers* (often retired lawyers). It operates from 23 courts in 19 different cities across England and Wales.

It was founded in 2001 by Lady Copisarow OBE with the aim of reducing the disadvantage of people facing the civil and family justice system without a lawyer, enabling them to access justice.

The PSU relies on funding from the Government, Trusts, corporate sponsors and donations from friends and individuals. In 2018/19, its annual revenue was £1,103,257.

Trustees include: Peter Crisp, Kirit Naik, Elizabeth Davies, Caroline Field, Peter Hancock CBE, Angela Camber, Elisabeth Long, Greville Waterman, David Wilkin and as of 9th July Samantha Gargaro, Stephen Adler and Tim Nash.

Patrons include: Martin Lewis OBE, The Rt Hon The Baroness Hale of Richmond (President of the Supreme Court), The Rt Hon Sir Terence Etherton (Master of the Rolls), The Rt Hon The Lady Butler-Sloss, The Rt Hon The Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony, The Rt Hon Lord Dyson, The Rt Hon The Lord Neuberger, The Rt Hon The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, The Rt Hon The Lord Thomas, The Rt Hon The Lord Woolf, The Rt Hon The Lord Judge.
**Figure exact as of 11 July 2019

For more information on the PSU, please see: https://www.thepsu.org/

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Bell Yard voted top Litigation PR firm for second year running

Bell Yard Communications is delighted to share news of our ranking as a Band 1 PR & Communications firm in Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide 2019. Top ranked recognition in last year’s inaugural guide was gratifying, but maintaining our pre-eminent position makes us extremely proud. We believe it is testimony to the trust and belief in our counsel, shown by our clients, peers and referrers alike, for which we are extremely grateful.

This year, the firm is described as “very effective” and “highly recommended”. In addition, Bell Yard’s founder and Director, Melanie Riley, also ranked Band 1, is referenced by peers as “professional, charming, incredibly thorough and a joy to work with.”

Melanie said: “We have a tight-knit, diligent and dedicated team here at Bell Yard who make coming to work a real pleasure. I like to think this is reflected in the service we provide, for our clients to have given us this huge vote of confidence.”

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Swiss agency partner joins Bell Yard’s global network of Litigation PR experts

The Crisis and Litigation Communicators´ Alliance (CLCA), a global network of international Litigation PR specialists jointly founded by Bell Yard Communications, expands its success in 2019 by welcoming a new member firm to its network – the highly-respected Swiss agency Cabinet Privé de Conseils (CPC), based in Geneva and Bern.

Philippe Eberhard, founder and President of CPC, sees membership of the CLCA as having great potential for CPC´s clients to benefit from the network’s expertise:

“Since founding in 2004, we have gained considerable experience in Litigation and Crisis PR. We want to share our knowledge – especially in the Swiss market – with specialist partner agencies abroad. Switzerland is a global hub for businesses and has a strong international focus. In our CLCA membership we see substantial benefit for our clients, especially because of the ability to refer to internationally recognised Litigation and Crisis PR specialists when needed.”

Martin Jenewein from Schneider | Minar | Jenewein Consulting and Chairman of the CLCA comments:

“With our new member CPC, headquartered in Geneva, we not only add a leading Swiss Litigation PR specialist firm to our network, but also now have both the French and German speaking regions truly well covered. This will have the dual benefit of assisting international companies with interests anywhere in Switzerland, as well as supporting CPC’s existing clients with their transnational exposure.”

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

PR blunders of 2018 – what happened next?

As far as PR crises go, 2018 was a shaky year – retailers were brought to a standstill, CEOs were toppled and one of Britain’s best-loved fast-food chain was forced to shut its doors. At the close of 2018, we take a look at the biggest PR crises of the year and ask, what happened next? 

Presidents Club
Unbeknown to the 360 men who attended a black tie dinner at The Dorchester on 17 January 2018, that evening would mark the last time they’d all meet as members of the so-called President’s Club. The Financial Times sent two reporters undercover at the Club’s annual fundraising dinner where they recorded scenes of groping, coarse comments, and sleazy requests by attendees inviting hostesses to join them in one of The Dorchester’s snazzy rooms. The subsequent exposé published on 23 January turned what was initially a display of decadence and wealth, into a game of sitting ducks, as many attendees were named and shamed. The event sparked one of the biggest cultural shifts in the City as women bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace uniting under the #MeToo banner. Almost a year on and City firms are making a concerted effort to show they are taking allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace seriously – Deloitte recently announced it had fired five UK partners for inappropriate behaviour over the past four years out of 20 overall. Magic circle law firms, however, have coyly chosen not to reveal how many partners were dismissed for inappropriate behaviour.

British Airways
A data breach in August saw 380,000 customers’ personal details stolen by Russian hackers who reportedly made up to £9.4 million selling the data on the dark web. BA’s response was swift but lacked clarity as the airline failed to confirm exactly whether customers’ bank details had been stolen, many of whom were subsequently targeted by fraudsters. The EU is yet to give any indication whether the breach will lead to a fine. Under the new GDPR rules, the maximum fine for a company data breach is 4 percent of their worldwide turnover (which could see a fine of up to £480 million smacked on the airline). What’s more, several class action law firms are rallying disgruntled customers – SPG Law is leading a £500 million group action which they say could see each affected customer walk away with £1,250 in compensation.

Dixons Carphone
It took Dixons nearly a year to discern and publicly admit the severity of the data hack which hit its system in 2017. A total of 10 million customers were affected – nearly 10 times as many as previously thought. The breach left another stain on Dixons tarnished track record having previously been fined £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office following a hack in 2015. Earlier in December, the retailer posted a loss of £440 million for the period from April to October. Whatever the cause of the slump, the Christmas period is unlikely to bring much respite; the retailer will have to up its game if it wants to compete against the e-commerce behemoth, Amazon. If dwindling profits weren’t enough to worry about, several law firms including Leigh Day and Hayes Connor Solicitors, are considering launching a group action against the retailer. 

Sir Martin Sorrell
Advertising mogul, Sir Martin Sorrell resigned as chairman of WPP following accusations that he had misused company funds and had created a “fear culture” at the company’s headquarters in London. As part of his resignation, Sorrell signed a non-disclosure agreement which precludes him from discussing any of the circumstances surrounding his departure. However, in a recent interview given to The Mail on Sunday, Sorrell candidly addressed his reputation following his sudden resignation: “I’ve had three lives,” he says. “Nine years at Saatchi, 33 years at WPP and, hopefully, five to ten years at S4 Capital. The records have, and will, speak for themselves.” Time will tell whether his last record plays a different tune. 

KFC
A switch to a new supplier resulted in a shortage of chicken forcing hundreds of restaurants to close. KFC’s whimsical and authentic response led many PR professionals hailing it a “masterclass in crises management”. A few tongue-in-cheek tweets and a full-page ad in the Metro with a picture of a KFC bargain bucket and the letters “FCK” brazenly printed across it, was enough to rescue the fast-food chain from permanent exile to the abyss of PR blunders. 

If the examples above illustrate one thing, it’s this: it’s not the crisis that defines you, but the speed, reliability and sincerity of your actions in mastering it instead. If in doubt, do give us a shout!

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Statement from Mrs Sally Masterton regarding her settlement with Lloyds Banking Group

“I am pleased that Lloyds Banking Group has listened to me following the public release of the Project Lord Turnbull report in May of this year and has recognised the distress and inconvenience this has caused me. I am greatly relieved that the Bank has acknowledged that I acted with integrity and in good faith in raising my concerns with them.

“I am assisting Dame Linda Dobbs with her review into the actions of Lloyds Banking Group in relation to HBOS Reading following the acquisition of HBOS in 2009.

“I am satisfied that Dame Linda’s review is the appropriate forum for considering these matters, together with any subsequent investigation or enquiry by the FCA.”

ENDS

Issued 14 November 2018

Media enquiries should be directed to Bell Yard Communications:

Melanie Riley: melanie@d2932816.u700.pipeten.co.uk – 020 7936 2021 – M: 07775 591244
Louise Beeson: louise@d2932816.u700.pipeten.co.uk – 020 7936 2023 – M: 07768 956997

Lloyds Banking Group press office contacts are:

Ian Kitts: 020 7356 1347 – M: 0758 4580743
Siobhan McCluskey: 020 7661 4669 – M: 07795 611179

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

NDAs: Beware of what you wish for

Disputes invariably come down to money. Whether you already have much of it and want more, or too little and also want more. Let’s face it, most of us can be swayed in pursuit of it. And it’s the defining feature of an NDA – a contract between parties in which one receives remuneration in exchange for their silence (except in relation to criminal conduct). Yet the latest furore over the use of NDAs, involving a businessman that the Telegraph sought to expose, alleged to arise from claims of sexual harassment, racial abuse and bullying, has been cast as another example of money improperly buying silence – but for how long? 

Of course there are multiple considerations in making the decision to enter into an NDA contract. Those of us involved in advising on the media interest in litigation know the extent to which any intrusion of privacy can have long-lasting impact on the lives of the individuals involved, and those close to them. No innocent but injured employee blowing the whistle wishes to be forever defined as a litigant, or worse. No boyfriend, husband, wife or girlfriend of a complainant wishes to endlessly relive the stresses placed on their partner from the initial incident(s) right through to a trial. Which hurt party wishes to have their name splashed across newspapers and archived online for their parents, children, future work colleagues, neighbours etc to comment on or gossip about? 

In our experience, complainants usually want the misconduct acknowledged, for it to stop, a sincere apology given, remedial action taken and for them to continue their lives unfettered by the original action. Media exposure is a by-product of litigation.

However there are cases in which the experiences are not properly acknowledged, no admission or apology is given, the discomfort felt by the complainant is so severe that returning to the same workplace is unpalatable, the feeling that no one believes you is palpable, and concerns that if the detail were known to the public they would rush to judge you too – and so the maintenance of privacy becomes the primary objective. In these circumstances, the NDA, with its attendant pay off, seems the least injurious end to an extremely distressing and unwarranted episode, notwithstanding a desire to call out sexual misconduct.

That’s probably why two of the complainants in the Telegraph injunction story are supportive of the claimants’ efforts to injunct media reporting.

The other side of the coin is that the public deserves to know of serial sexual harassers. While the media spotlight rises and wanes, its lifespan is usually dictated by the arrival of the next cause celebre. However during its brightest glare any expectation of privacy diminishes, and where there’s moral judgment to be had, it’s even harder to keep issues hidden in the dark. Your rights as an individual complainant risk being trampled in the cause of a public exposure of wrongdoing. Where the matter involves a movement as strong and compelling as #MeToo, anonymising your involvement seems only a partial remedy to concerns over your privacy. There are some who condemn those who decline to expose others. Being caught in this wave of the righteous is an uncomfortable place to be.

As for an alleged perpetrator, seeking an injunction to prevent publication on the back of a breach of confidence – surely someone will have warned them such action brings greater attention to the matter they are trying to prevent becoming common knowledge. Injunctions simply can’t defeat publication somewhere in the world of the internet.

Here’s an alternative approach from those in the know – hold fire on the defamation and privacy lawyers’ letters and other recourse to the law as there’s often some way to mitigate historic behaviour, or publicly learn from mistakes of the past. Schadenfreude is a powerful thing but self-flagellation has a way of allowing people, in time, to forgive the transgressions of others, depending of course on their severity and frequency, and the sincerity of the self-reflection. 

Whereas using your money and the victims’ interests as a means to stamp on the media, particularly when there’s a worldwide campaign in full swing, rarely ends well. Money may not matter in the end. 

25 October 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

#MeToo – a year on: Lessons for law firms

It’s a year since the start of the #MeToo movement and perhaps more than any other profession, various big name law firms have found themselves tested by the challenges of this new era.

No longer are complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct an HR issue. A firm’s response now has to be considered through a more complicated prism of reputational risk – to ensure fairness to the victim and the accused; the right legal and ostensibly moral path. Management’s reaction is open to considerable public scrutiny whilst often the individuals concerned prefer a private and confidential process.

It’s clear the old ways of dealing with issues of harassment and misconduct have lost their viability. Yet there is no single route map to follow. Instead the following considerations are now deemed key to developing a credit worthy response: 

• Should firms conduct an internal investigation or appoint independent external investigators?

• Should NDAs and settlement agreements be used and if so, their use acknowledged?

• What level of information should be disclosed surrounding departures – did that person’s behaviour ‘fall short of company values’ or was it abusive or worse? 

• Is it realistic to think “inappropriate behaviour” will hold as a public line or will rumours of the real reasons for a departure cause greater reputational harm than transparancy?

• Should firms be proactive about changes to policies and procedures on alcohol, zero-tolerance, inter-office relationships which may cause a greater hostage to fortune? 

• Will leadership – managing partners, HR Directors and even Comms heads – find their decisions as heavily judged as those of the original perpetrator? (after all it’s often how an untowards event is handled that is critical to long term reputation, rather than the event itself.)

• Will firms who may find themselves serially in the spotlight and which fail to embed culture change, be boycotted by future talent and clients alike?

Wise counsel spanning various disciplines is required to help law firms steer the way through in these tricky times. Lawyers (criminal, employment, regulatory), HR experts, and reputation advisers need to work constructively together. (And partners accused should be probably be assembling their own team with similar expertise too).

From a communications point of view, the earlier reputation advisors are at the table the better; a full briefing of all the facts is essential; preparation both for a final outcome as well as leaks along the way is key; consideration for what can be said when the police or regulators may get involved must be factored in too; thinking about all potential audiences is important.

So far, the court of public opinion is favouring those firms willing to take a brave and robust response to problems. As much transparency as possible is critical to this trust. But the minute there is an inkling that an organisation has gone through the motions without making difficult decisions, or in extremis that we begin to see exaggerated claims and try-on situations and senior individuals fighting back, the reputational waters may prove even choppier to navigate. 

It will also be interesting to see if degrees of behaviour start to be judged differently. Will bullies or serial sexual innuendo pests come to be viewed differently to those accused of full-on sexual assault? Where criminal sentences are levied, there is surely no way back but if no criminal case is ever brought or won might it be possible for the accused to win back their reputation for legal prowess? A mea cupla I’ve changed interview might be a bold stroke but achievable for the right individual. 

Although the criminal case against Harvey Weinstein may be crumbling it is doubtful his reputation can ever be salvaged. What is certain is the forces he has unleashed and the shockwaves of #MeToo are rocking the legal community and causing serious and ongoing reputational risk. 

19th October 2018

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Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Spinal Tap Plaintiffs Defeat Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss

Historic Litigation Moves Forward with Fraud and Copyright Termination Claims Intact; Co-creators Introduce New Legal Team to Carry Case Forward

August 29, 2018: Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner, the four co-creators of the revered band “Spinal Tap,” and the 1984 film “This is Spinal Tap,” (TIST), today celebrated the favorable ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee in their ongoing $400m lawsuit against French conglomerate Vivendi and its subsidiaries.

Harry Shearer, commenting on behalf of his co-Plaintiffs, said:

“We are pleased with the decision in our ongoing litigation involving the film ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ which allows all of our claims against Vivendi, StudioCanal and Ron Halpern, including the fraud claim, to proceed. We are also confident that we will adequately amend our claims against the defendant Universal Music, as specified by Judge Gee’s order, so we can move forward with those as well. The Court’s ruling makes clear that we can pursue damages both for breach of contract and fraud, including punitive damages, based on the defendants’ failure to properly account to us for our profits in connection with ‘This is Spinal Tap.’ It is equally important that we can pursue our right to recapture our copyright interests and other intellectual property rights in connection with the Spinal Tap film and music, so that we can control our own creative product and benefit from it, as we should have all along. We look forward to finally getting our day in court, at a trial, with the evidence that to date Vivendi has tried to hide from us.”

Further, Spinal Tap creators Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner announced that preeminent entertainment litigator Stanton “Larry” Stein and his team at Russ, August & Kabat, including Bennett Bigman and Irene Lee, have been engaged as new lead counsel in the creators’ ongoing litigation against Vivendi and its affiliated defendants over unpaid revenues, breach of contract, fraud, and ownership of intellectual property rights in the landmark “This is Spinal Tap” case.

Harry Shearer, commenting also on behalf of his co-Plaintiffs, said:

“We are confident that Larry Stein and his team are the right lawyers to lead our case to victory on the merits. I have known and worked with Larry for a long time. Larry is widely recognized as one of Hollywood’s top entertainment litigators and has a long history of successfully challenging self-dealing within giant media corporations such as Vivendi. Larry and his experienced team will help us through the next phase of this litigation to show that not only have we been deprived of fair compensation for our work, but that we are entitled to ownership and control over our film, music, and the Spinal Tap brand itself. I want to thank Peter Haviland and his team at Ballard Spahr for their great work in crafting our claims, and especially for preserving our important fraud claim that Vivendi has desperately tried, but failed, to have dismissed. We look forward to Larry and Peter working together to move this case into the discovery phase, where we can shine a bright light on Vivendi’s improper and fraudulent accounting practices.”

Larry Stein added:

“We welcome the opportunity to build on what Peter and his team have done and to get to the merits of what I am sure will be ground-breaking litigation in protecting valuable rights for not only these four talented individuals, but for all creative artists.”

ENDS

Further details and a copy of the Plaintiffs’ Opposition to the Defendants’ Motions can be found at www.fairnessrocks.com

About The Film

This is Spinal Tap – produced on a shoestring budget, has become a cult classic since its first theatrical run, in 1984. The film has garnered international praise and acclaim, having been included in “best ever” lists such as The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made; Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time where it appeared on the “Just Too Beloved to Ignore” list; and the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list published by Total Film.

The band, composed of Shearer, Guest and McKean, performing as their beloved stage personae in the company of a rotating cast of percussionists willing to risk the kit (as so many of their predecessors have been accident prone), has toured the world multiple times since the film’s release. Hundreds of thousands of Spinal Tap sound recordings have been sold over the ensuing decades and the film has been released on a host of video formats down the years. Full-length Spinal Tap albums are still available for physical sale, download and streaming today.

29 August 2018

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Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

It’s silly season – but for whom?

A chuckle resonated through western media in June when a Japanese water company issued a public apology to its customers when it was revealed that one of their employees, a 64 year old man, had periodically started his lunch break 3 minutes early for a “change of pace”, totalling 69 minutes over a period of 7 months. As punishment, the company docked the culprit half a day’s pay, apologising profusely for their employee’s “deeply regrettable” behaviour. 

It is difficult to fathom what this Japanese company would make of work habits in the UK and Europe at the best of times, let alone during the summer months. The so-called ‘Silly Season’, occurring from July to August, marks a ‘shutdown’ for major industries – from parliament to education and some small businesses – as they close their doors to take a well-deserved break. Silly season is named after the emergence of frivolous stories in the media during the annual holiday time downing of tools. Even the notoriously frantic world occupied by bankers, lawyers and accountants sees the pace of business decelerate in holiday periods. Who can blame them? The health benefits reaped are undeniable: less time spent glued to a screen means more time spent on often-neglected leisurely pursuits, family and friends. 

But what about the communications industry? Is it appropriate for PR professionals to be out-of-office during the summer and other holiday months? With PR being a notoriously difficult game of ‘getting there first’ and ‘controlling the message’ – probably not. The handling of any reputation is delicate and requires consistent attention to any reverberations in the mediasphere, to present an effective, sure-footed response.

During the silly season, otherwise innocuous stories can take on a life and longevity of their own. Just ask Boris Johnson. Though the audience may be somewhat diminished and those that remain somewhat distracted, nonetheless, for communications professionals at least, silly season rarely allows for taking your eye off the ball. 

9 August 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Youth, I do adore thee

The race to capture the millennial vote reached the height of farcicality this week when the Conservatives launched an online competition for ‘Love Island’ water-bottles, branded with the phrase “Don’t let Corbyn mug you off”. The water-bottles could be won in exchange for personal information, seemingly as part of the Conservative party’s ongoing efforts to target the all-powerful youth vote. The stunt was deemed a resounding flop, and Momentum, the pro-Labour campaign group, responded with the playground taunt: “Dear Tories, no matter how hard you graft, young people won’t want to couple up with you. All the best, younger voters.”

Traditionally, older generations have disapproved of the novel practices of their youthful counterparts, with the notable American lawyer Adlai E. Stevenson warning his contemporaries in 1952 that “nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation”. Times could not have changed more. A defining feature of today is not so much disapproval of the younger generation, but rather a race to keep up with them. Generation Y most notably revealed itself as a force to be reckoned with in the May 2017 election. Labour seats skyrocketed, to the detriment of the Conservative majority, largely on Corbyn’s harnessing of the youth vote; only 22% of 20-24 year olds voted Tory, whereas 62% voted Labour. Political success was thus revealed to be partly founded on a party’s ability to learn the lingo.

Millennials are transforming the way that we communicate. Attention spans are at an all-time low, with recent research finding that the average attention-span of a human is 8 seconds, inferior to that of a goldfish. The youth culture of compulsive social-media scrolling has been primarily blamed for this. Such practice puts enormous pressure on businesses and political parties alike to create eye-catching content to isolate the attention of the consumer or voter, being brief enough to communicate all relevant information before the young scroller’s attention is exhausted. This is clearly having an effect on the quality of our political landscape. Consider the Brexit Leave campaign bus that claimed that £350 million per week could be transplanted from the EU to the NHS, or the election of the prolific twitter-user Donald Trump, whose quotable, and often outrageous, account is followed by 53.4 million people.

The communication habits of Generation Y are thus filtering outwards, creating a world where brevity, shock and celebrity hold more sway than fact. Looking forward, one asks if the hitherto responsible corporations, desperate to influence young people, will follow this path or hold themselves to a higher standard. Amidst an increasingly dark world of pessimism and negativity, the positive power of humour in engagement should not be forgotten. It is up to professional advisors to signal the consequences of short-sighted banality, and guide corporations towards the correct balance between accuracy and accessibility in their media.

02 August 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Mancunian Rockers release song for John Winskill

The popular British melodic rock band, Blood Red Saints have today released a single entitled “Justice for The Night”. It was written and recorded by them to support Major John Winskill, an injured ex-serviceman, husband and father of four, the band having read of his plight last month.

Vocalist Pete Godfrey, lead guitarist Lee Revill, guitarist Neil Hibbs and drummer Andy Chemney were so moved by the situation faced by Major Winskill (48) from Amesbury near Salisbury, that they set about doing what they know best, to help raise the profile of John’s case in his time of need.

John needs help to stop a misdirected criminal prosecution in Peru, after he was the victim of a road traffic accident when volunteering to support a team in the Dakar Rally.

In 2012, John volunteered to help a team of injured ex-servicemen realise their dreams by competing in the world’s toughest endurance driving event, through a charity called Race2Recovery. John was a logistics support team member and driver. Unfortunately, on the night of 9 January 2013, the Land Rover he was driving in convoy behind the race car was hit from behind, shunting his vehicle into the path of an oncoming taxi on the other side of the road. John’s Land Rover flipped and rolled after the collision, and he and his two passengers had to be cut out of the wreckage and eventually medevac’d home. Sadly the taxi driver and one of his five passengers were killed.

John thought the accident had been fully investigated in 2013. However unbeknown to him, for the past five years the Peruvian authorities have been looking to try to prosecute John for the collision, yet he was a victim, not the perpetrator. Out of the blue, in February this year his wife, Lisa, received a knock on their door to see police officers serving papers requiring John to attend court in Peru to stand trial, with a potential minimum sentence of six years’ imprisonment. This triggered a serious bout of John’s PTSD.

Since February, John and Lisa have used all their family’s savings, taken loans and borrowed from friends to try to get the prosecution stopped by demonstrating how, and why, the collision was not down to John. But the Peruvians are refusing to allow him to present his defence to get the trial stopped. He has now run out of money to continue to pay his British and Peruvian lawyers – yet the case still hangs over him. Sadly, the Race2Recovery charity failed to provide any legal insurance for its volunteers and have left him high and dry.

Despite doing a generous deed for other injured ex-servicemen, that one night in Peru has caused untold anxiety and financial ruin for John. He and the Blood Red Saints hope that the release of this single, Justice for The Night, freely available at John’s GoFundMe site will encourage the generosity of the great British public to support someone who was helping others when his life was turned upside down.

John Winskill says: “Saints not just in name, these guys have really stepped up when I was at my lowest ebb. They are truly good people and I’m more grateful than words can say. And it’s a catchy little rock number too! I hope people download it and hug their nearest and dearest just a little closer as they listen, while recognising that sometimes in life, events can be cruel and bloody hard to get over. But thank you to the Blood Red Saints for bringing a little light into my darkness.”

Neil Hibbs of Blood Red Saints said:
“I live in the same village as John and read about his dreadful situation in the paper. I couldn’t rest until the Band had done something to help. I hope the track raises awareness as I’m sure we can all do our bit to help a decent man out of his troubles.”

ENDS

The band has generously assigned all IP rights to the song and lyrics to John Winskill.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Brexit expert opinion

Media analysis firm Commetric has quoted Bell Yard’s senior consultant, Louise Beeson, extensively in a blog article about how law firms are promoting themselves and communicating around Brexit.

Louise talks about what tactics she has seen working well, the firms she has noticed who have been regularly quoted on Brexit topics, and some of the challenges involved given the uncertainty that still surrounds the Brexit process.

She concludes that so far no particular law firm has made itself the go-to firm on Brexit so this remains a golden opportunity!

To read the full article, click here

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Bell Yard leads campaign for ex-serviceman facing prosecution in Peru

John Winskill served in the British Army for 11 years as an infantry officer in the Scottish Division, deployed worldwide until retirement in 2005.

Since then, John has been a passionate unpaid volunteer for service charities.

In 2012 he volunteered with a UK motorsport charity (Race2Recovery). The Charity’s aim was to help injured military veterans to take an active part in rally racing and be the first disabled team to complete the famous Dakar Rally Raid: a 9000km desert vehicle race across Peru, Argentina and Chile.

The Charity received tremendous financial support from the British public and businesses (such as McLaren and Jaguar LandRover JLR) plus a £100,000 donation from HRH Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince Harry (now Duke of Sussex) through the Endeavour Fund/The Royal Foundation. A main recipient of monies raised through donations was the Help for Heroes charity, whose logo adorned the rally vehicles and volunteers’ clothing, as well as for Personnel Recovery Centre at Tedworth House,

On 9 Jan 2013 and after the day’s racing had concluded, three of the team’s Land Rover support vehicles were towing one of the race cars and moving South in a controlled convoy on public roads, heading to their next overnight stop. During this road move, and at about 9.30pm, the logistics support Land Rover Defender, that John was driving, was involved in a head-on collision with a local Peruvian taxi. Tragically the driver and a passenger in the taxi were killed in the collision, four South American nationals were injured and John and his two colleagues in the Land Rover were badly injured.

Sadly like so many recent veterans, John was diagnosed with PTSD following his military service and this incident has dramatically increased his mental ill-health and fragility. John’s trauma from his experiences on military operations before the accident were exacerbated by the tragedy of this collision and its aftermath.

One month after the collision and during his recuperation, John was informed that a police investigation was underway regarding the collision. In December 2013 John was informed that the investigators were seeking a further 8 months to investigate. John was then not contacted again for over five years, and hence had every reason to believe that the investigation had been completed and the cause identified. Nonetheless, John knew his actions were not at fault.

Yet on 7 Feb 2018, more than 5 years after the collision and having not been invited by the Peruvian authorities to provide his account of what happened, John received notice from the Peruvian courts, indicting him as being responsible for the fatal collision.

John’s world fell apart once more.

A Peruvian collision investigation expert has been funded by John and his supporters to ascertain the sequence of events and using the vast amount of video footage, photographic imagery, and witness statements taken from the British and US military veterans at the scene. The expert’s findings indicate, as expected, that John bears no responsibility for causing the fatal collision. Yet the Peruvian court has not permitted this evidence to be considered.

John is determined to present the truth for all the families involved and to find the real cause of the collision for the families of those so tragically bereaved and also for his own family. To fund this quest for the truth John sought to claim on Race2Recovery’s legal insurance policy to pay for defence lawyers in both London and Peru. Regrettably John has since discovered Race2Recovery’s Trustees had failed to secure any legal insurance for the volunteers supporting the charity. Furthermore John has now found that the Charity ceased trading in 2014. John believes that the Charity’s Trustees were aware of their duty of care to their volunteers as they tried to have them sign a liability waiver at Heathrow Airport at 5am on New Year’s Eve 2013, 60 mins before they boarded the plane for Peru. John did not sign this waiver. It’s now clear that John, like all the unpaid volunteers, travelled to Peru to take part in a race known for its danger without adequate insurance cover being provided by the Charity.

John has also since learned that the French insurers of the Dakar Rally paid a significant sum in compensation to the bereaved families in 2014. In the documents submitted to the Peruvian courts in 2018, huge financial compensatory payments are being demanded from John, above those already apparently paid as settlement figures. John is described as a man fleeing from justice.

The Peruvian authorities apparently have held two court hearings regarding the collision. John was not informed of these hearings despite the authorities having been in possession of John’s contact address and passport details since 2013.

At these hearings it has been discovered that the Peru authorities instructed a defence counsel to attend on John’s behalf – without his knowledge, agreement or instruction. The Defence counsel had no defence evidence to present as John did not know of them, their existence or their instruction.

John has been indicted for the alleged crime of two counts of negligent homicide and four counts of negligent wounding. No defence case has been presented in Peru as John was not informed at any stage, that he was indicted until 2018 and yet the Peruvian prosecutor has demanded John’s conviction and incarceration in a Peruvian prison for a 6 year minimum sentence, plus compensatory payments.

The legal fees to properly fund John’s case are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands. John and his family have exhausted all their own funds.

A link to John on video explaining the injustice he faces in his own words, plus the place to donate, is here: https://uk.gofundme.com/fundjusticeforjohn2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

GDPR: the reputational risks

You’re probably sick of hearing about GDPR – to be honest, so are we! But what does interest us is the reputational risks to a company, firm, or organisation if any should fall foul of the new, rather strident, regulations.

The only way for the media to justify yet another GDPR-related story in the aftermath of its implementation is to expose the first investigation for failure to comply – and you can be sure law firm PRs are equally awaiting this opportunity to educate. What’s worse is if it’s your company that has ignored individuals’ preferences on a mass scale, you may find your workplace the subject of unwelcome litigation, as customers bunch together to engage class action lawyers to hold your company to account. Any resultant media attention will be uncomfortable as it will affect your company’s standing among its stakeholders. The likes of TSB, Uber, Talk Talk, Equifax and Wonga know to their cost the reputational damage that can follow from data-related problems. However, companies can take a modicum of solace from the fact that the Independent Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said in the first year they would take an advisory position for first time non-compliance and not look to immediately impose large financial penalties. 

Time will tell whether the general public is sufficiently aware of its new rights, or indeed whether lax custody of its personal data matters sufficiently to lodge an effective complaint, let alone file a lawsuit. Regardless, the regulatory environment is such that reputational risks still remain.

23 May 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Bell Yard secures top spot in new Litigation PR ranking

Bell Yard Communications is delighted to share that it has been ranked as a Band 1 PR and Communications firm in Chambers & Partners’ inaugural Litigation Support Guide.

The firm is described as “one of the earliest exponents of the craft (of litigation PR) in the UK”. The firm’s Founder and Director, Melanie Riley, is labeled a “noted practitioner” and is referred to by peers as “phenomenally discreet and capable” and “incredibly effective”. One lawyer is quoted as saying: “There are fights between law firms to get them on board. Honestly, it’s Bell Yard and then everyone else, they are really far ahead of the game.” Another contributor: “If I could have only one speed dial to a PR, it would be to … Bell Yard.”

“We are immensely gratified to be recognised in this way”  comments Melanie Riley. “Personally, I’m just so proud of the incredibly intelligent, talented, and diligent team of women who currently make up Bell Yard. This is a huge honour for us all. We would particularly like to pass on our thanks to our valued clients, referrers and industry friends, without whom this accolade would not be possible. We are determined to continue to meet their expectations of us.”

One other member of the Crisis and Litigation Communicators’ Alliance (CLCA), an international network of Litigation PR firms co-founded by Bell Yard, was also recognised in these prestigious rankings.

LEVICK, the CLCA’s US member firm, was ranked in Band 3 of the Litigation Support Guide, with Ian McCaleb, the chair of Levick’s legal advisory and communications practice, receiving specific praise.

18 May 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

An unconventional audience: targeting the student community

Disgruntled students received more than £650,000 in refunds and compensation from universities over the last year, with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator stating it received 1,635 complaints in 2017 – an 8% increase on 2016. More recently, news reports confirm that law firm, Asserson, is representing 1000 students in a group legal action seeking millions of pounds for teaching time lost during lecturer strikes.

There are a number of factors fuelling the rise of successful claims lodged by students. No doubt the Woolf Reforms, which aimed to reduce the cost and delay of bringing forward class action disputes, and the subsequent Civil Procedure Rules (1999), which built on this, have equipped the consumer with far more leverage. But the demographic itself – the astute, non-conformist, millennial generation who recognise their legal rights and seek to monetise them, perhaps bears more weight, when added to the irresistible charm of law firms offering “no win no fee” litigation services.

For class action lawyers seeking to engage the student demographic, PR activity should look beyond the traditional broadsheets to be most effective:

• The likelihood of cash-strapped students forking out for a subscription of The Times or its ilk are slim. Instead, PR efforts should focus on targeting student newspapers, such as The Tab, the left-leaning press, including The Guardian online, and other web outlets popular among the younger audience – not least – Buzzfeed, VICE and perhaps some engaging shareable (usually humorous) video content on YouTube.

• The biggest users of social media are those aged from 16 to 35. On top of that 5pm essay deadline, students are overwhelmingly blitzed with information, so reaching this tech-savvy generation requires translating your message online through creative and increasingly novel means. Visuals are processed by the brain 60,000 times faster than text, so infographics are one good way to ensure your narrative is not just seen, but is registered.

• The rise of influencer marketing, propelled by the growing use of social media, means peer-to-peer recommendations are trumping the efficacy of traditional advertising methods. Individuals are 92% more likely to trust endorsements and recommendations made by their peers than those made by traditional advertising or news sources. So you may want to consider bolstering your firm’s reputation among those to whom you’re already known, before launching a full-blown PR campaign targeting a fresh, new audience.

• Fees, law firm reputation, and legal rankings will play their part in influencing a prospective litigant. But CSR matters too – among this environmentally and socially-conscious generation. A study by Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse found that “81 percent of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship” – and there’s no reason to think this wouldn’t translate to their expectations of their advisors. If your firm is at the forefront of cutting-edge pro-bono work or is committed to drastically reducing its carbon footprint, don’t shy away from revealing it to your prospective clients – shout it from the rooftops, but only if it’s culturally embedded and not just being paid lip-service – we millennials can’t resist a bit of virtue signalling through the choices we make!

30 April 2018

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

The future cost of litigation

Behind many a closed door lies a scandal. The Financial Times’ recent exposé of the Presidents Club’s dirty dinner evinced the venom and volatility all too often associated with a reputational crisis. No reputation safe, no blushes spared. 

It comes as little surprise that research by Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law reveals £26.2bn was set aside by FTSE100 companies over the course of 2016 to cover the costs of litigation, regulatory fines and compensation. Subject to increasingly stringent regulation, the banking sector accounted for over half of this total figure. In contrast, the insurance sector only accounted for one percent. 

Will these numbers shrink in 2018? It’s unlikely the legal challenges contributing to these costs will decline: the implementation of GDPR on 25 May and the governments’ flirtation with a new corporate offence regarding the failure to prevent tax evasion, has the potential to set fines soaring. Likewise, companies may be hit with a growing number of lawsuits for failing to offer equal pay for equal work, particularly as the tide turns against a sheepish acceptance of ‘laddish banter’ in the workplace to promoting a safe working environment for women, no matter the industry.

Future prospects for minimising the impact of the City’s legal challenges may seem bleak were it were not for the growing rise of litigation funders. As third-parties willing to take the risk for a greater share of the reward if successful, litigation funders have the potential to slash the costs associated with commercial disputes. Backing the right horse in other parties’ litigation can be lucrative business for such funders. Companies and individual litigants are increasingly acquainting themselves with litigation funders, equipping themselves with the power to shape the risk and reward of certain litigation or, in some instances, providing them with the opportunity to bring a case that would otherwise be financially prohibitive to fight. 

The growth of litigation funding is beneficial to litigation PRs too, opening doors to more well-resourced claimants as well as the traditional instructions from defendant corporations with reputations to protect.

With funding, lawyers and litigation PRs on hand, companies and individuals can more confidently tackle reputational crises head on, should they find their concealing doors being prised open.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Bell Yard joins the PRCA to assist in upholding ethical and educational standards

The PRCA is pleased to announce that Bell Yard Communications has joined the association to assist in upholding ethical and educational standards.

Bell Yard advises individuals, firms, chambers, charities, and others, on how to communicate in matters relating to the law. Bell Yard is the foremost litigation PR boutique practice in the country, with over 15 years of experience in handling the media interest in high stakes disputes. Bell Yard has also jointly established a multi-jurisdictional alliance – the CLCA – bringing together likeminded litigation PR agencies to share know-how and experience. Each CLCA member is committed to high ethical standards in all its work in every jurisdiction in which we operate.

Melanie Riley MPRCA, Founder, Bell Yard Communications’, said: “Reputation is one of the most valuable assets possessed by an entity or individual. Agencies providing communications counsel should be respected and trusted not only by those they advise, but also by their peers. The PRCA is leading the way in upholding ethical and educational standards for the PR industry and Bell Yard is pleased to play our part through membership.”

Francis Ingham MPRCA, Director General, PRCA, said: “I am delighted to welcome Bell Yard as PRCA’s newest member. Bell Yard’s commitment to upholding standards mirrors that of the PRCA and, by working alongside them, we hope to raise standards in our industry and beyond. We are also very pleased to have Melanie Riley on the PRCA Legal Group committee. Having legal and litigation PR experts like Bell Yard involved in this Group will help PRCA members to further their understanding of and positive influence in this sector.”

11 December 2017

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Paradise Papers: reputations unscathed?

With the media sensation surrounding Paradise Papers tempering, talk has turned to the legal and financial consequences of the leak – but what about the longer-term reputational fallout for those embroiled?

One of the first to be publicly named and shamed was Lewis Hamilton – four-time Formula One World Champion, who allegedly avoided paying £3.1 million in tax on a private jet he had imported to the UK. Hamilton has since chosen to remain silent, perhaps recognising that winning the public’s hearts and minds, in relation to his personal financial affairs, is unnecessary in his pursuit of distinction on the track. His position as Britain’s greatest Formula One driver is cemented, with or without passing the general public’s somewhat arbitrary, moral character test.
Similarly, will viewers stop watching Mrs Brown’s Boys because its actors were outed as allegedly having diverted more than £2 million through an offshore tax-avoidance scheme? At its peak, the show was adored by over 11 million viewers – will fans refuse to purchase boxsets, calendars, t-shirts and other sitcom memorabilia in economic protest? Brendon O’Carroll, the creator of the show, rushed to defend his co-stars claiming that “every penny [of tax] was paid”. Apart from the increasing media interest in the actors’ broader financial affairs (a recent report claims the O’Carroll family owns £3.4 million in Floridian real estate), time is yet to tell whether the leaks will have any real impact on the sitcom stars’ careers.

By the same token, half a million tourists are unlikely to stop flocking to Buckingham Palace every year because the Queen’s estate was found to have invested millions offshore. The news may have caused a temporary spike in anti-royalist sentiment – but who could hold a 91-year old lady, who happens to be the world’s longest reigning head of state with an exemplary record of public service, accountable for what was essentially the work of accountants working on behalf of the royal purse?
It’s still early days but the criticism faced by the accused has, so far, been less scathing than that heaped upon those implicated in the Panama Papers.

This somewhat muted, post-publication reaction could be result of several explanations. Either the general public is applying some level of reason to the highly-charged, reputation-slaying, media headlines and recognises that tax avoidance is essentially “tax efficiency” in the eyes of those who commit the deed.

Or maybe leaks of this kind are a hostage to fortune by those seeking to wreak reputational damage, serving, in the long-term, only to cement the public’s complacency, as celebrities, politicians and the super-rich hiding their wealth offshore becomes a disappointing and repetitious norm. Perhaps the punch is diluted because we suspect that some of the most vociferous critics are doing the same…

23 November 2017

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Lawyers’ clients outline bugbears, and words matter

Reading this research commissioned by the Legal Ombudsman, Bell Yard firmly concurs that an early, simple, but genuine “sorry” can do wonders for limiting the damage to one’s reputation following a dispute – but be sure to be clear what you’re saying sorry for, and why. We’ve heard lawyers (but not exclusively this profession) who are reluctant to apologise for matters where they can see a technical get out. Failing to put oneself into the shoes of the complainant in an effort to understand their view, is likely to escalate what might be resolved before positions become entrenched. Language does matter. Paraphrasing the infamous Ms Rice-Davies, we would say that wouldn’t we…

11 November 2017

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Data breaches: a crib sheet for the Channel Islands

Reports that Appleby’s office in the Isle of Man may have been hacked in the Paradise Papers scandal, in addition to the firm’s office in Bermuda, will no doubt have sent shivers down the spines of various law firms, family offices and wealth managers based in the Channel Islands. Offshore centres like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and BVA may all be fair game when it comes to the drive for transparency of the tax affairs of multinationals and the mega-rich, but the risk of data-attack closer to home is somewhat scarier.

For any firms concerned they may be vulnerable to data-breach, it is essential not only to work with your IT advisors to ensure encryption of sensitive documents and bolster your defences, as well as to educate all staff on appropriate email and internet use, prepare IT wise but also to have a communications crisis plan in place in case the worst happens. 

Bell Yard’s top communications tips for being ready for dreaded data-breach situations include:

1. Have a multi-disciplinary team of experts ready to mobilise in the event of a hack. PRs, lawyers, compliance and IT professionals will need to work in concert if a problem arises. The role of the PR expert is designed to avoid the firm hiding behind overly legalistic answers and to craft statements that will best resonate with the firm’s key audiences.

2. Be factual at the outset when confirming any attack and what is being done about it (e.g. are the police/NCA investigating?). Ensure all media and public calls are dealt with by a tight-knit team. It is best to avoid commenting on individual clients’ affairs or being drawn into speculation on the perpetrator.

3. Communicate with clients as swiftly as possible, directly and not just through the media. Website FAQs may not be the best way to go for HNW customers. Consider instead personal calls from the lead partner. It will be necessary to warn clients their financial data may end up in journalists’ hands and possibly you may need to recommend they use defamation and privacy lawyers too.

4. Don’t overplay the victim card: clients and the media will have little sympathy that IT systems weren’t sufficiently robust to keep hackers out, especially at a time when the public mood on tax transparency regards HNW financial data booty as in the public interest. 

5. Have a generic statement ready about the legitimacy and strength of your business to which you can add the context of the hack. 

6. Early, proactive engagement with your firm’s regulatory and professional bodies (such as the FCA, SRA and ICO) is imperative, and their breach guidelines followed. It may be appropriate to publicly demonstrate such engagement by way of demonstrating swift action and efforts to control the fall-out.

7. Keep updating your public responses, and ensure messages are consistent between recipients, as the situation evolves.

How a firm handles a crisis and re-establishes control will likely determine how quickly your reputation recovers. A defensive no-comment stance is unrealistic, even in a climate where you feel you can only be criticised. There is a tricky tightrope to walk between the right level of humility and robustness to emerge as unscathed as possible and to protect clients’ best interests. The key will be focusing on what your clients expect from you, by way of retaining their support. Clearly the risk of follow-on litigation could be present, so aim to move forward with clients on board.
Bell Yard has worked on various breach situations both in a front-line capacity and by guiding behind the scenes. We also have experience of working with clients in the Channel Islands. 

11 November 2017

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley