CHAPTER 26 – AMBUSH IN COURT 58
It was eventually John’s turn in the witness box where he nervously took the oath. He had no idea that he would be there for three days. The initial thrust of questioning by Geoffrey Hobbs was that John had plotted with Paul King to bring the claims against Shell. He instructed John to look at a particular document and would then ask questions relating to it before moving on to another document. This went on hour after hour, day after day, without any apparent headway being made by Geoffrey Hobbs in the pursuit of his theories.
There were interruptions from time to time by either Geoffrey Cox objecting to a particular question, or from the Judge, who wanted John to clarify a particular point or when the Judge had something to say to Geoffrey Hobbs. It was evident from the banter between the Judge and Hobbs that they knew each other very well, both being specialist in the same field of law. The Judge made humorous comments from time to time about his own wife, which helped to put everyone at ease. Hobbs would throw back his head and laugh loudly irrespective of how funny the comment had actually been. He knows how to ingratiate himself.
The only success achieved by Mr Hobbs was when he exploited the fact that John’s lawyers had failed to notice that a taped conversation which John had with a former a Senior King manager had not been transcribed. In other words, there was a tape of the relevant conversation supplied to Shell as part of the discovery process, but no typed transcript (as there had been for every other recorded conversation). John had forgotten that the particular conversation had taken place and his memory was not refreshed until he heard the recording in court. The brief conversation had taken place several years before the trial.
John turned the tables when Geoffrey Hobbs raised the subject of a particular document alleging to the effect that John's case against Shell had no merit and that the relevant set of documents were a complete fabrication. John correctly pointed out one of the documents had been disclosed by Shell in discovery, not by him. Under the circumstances it was not physically possible that he could have forged the document. In other words it came from Shell not from him. Hobbs then rephrased his question leaving out the words "a complete", whilst still trying to sound as if he had scored a success. John immediately pointed out that he was pleased that Mr Hobbs had at least dropped the word "complete". Mr Hobbs apparently looked rather sheepish.
However although Hobbs had come unstuck by making an unfounded accusation of forgery in that instance, he later returned to the same theme, this time questioning the authenticity of a Don Marketing letter dated 24th July 1992 sent to J Sainsbury. Mr Hobbs put it to John that it was a fabrication designed to bolster his case. As well as the initial unfounded accusation against John made in court by Hobbs, Shell had made various accusations about false claims for several years before the Sainsbury's letter ever came to light. In other words, it was a regular unsubstantiated general allegation by Shell designed to publicly undermine the credibility of our claims. No evidence had ever been produced or even identified. Instead Shell had settled the first three claims in our favour and admitted liability in the terms already indicated. Shell UK Chairman, Dr Chris Fay had also sent an unsolicited letter of apology to John in regards to the second and third claims settled by Shell for Ł200,000 plus costs which Shell had previously described in a press release as being "bogus claims".
So the bogus claim accusations had been used before against us and were now being used again, this time against a specific letter (later the suspicions were extended to a second Don Marketing letter printed on the same date). Having come unstuck in court by making an accusation of forgery in respect of a document which could not possibly have been fabricated by John, Shell had now switched their attack to a letter originated by Don Marketing.
Geoffrey Cox was absolutely incandescent at what he described as an “ambush”. Shell had obviously decided on the fraudulent documents line of attack long before the trial but had not disclosed the matter to John’s lawyers, as they should have done to give them the opportunity to investigate and obtain expert opinion on the authenticity of the relevant letters. Hobbs would not have embarrassed himself by making the initial unfounded accusation of fraud if John's lawyers had been given any advance notice. It had been relatively easy to point out that the relevant item could not possibly have been forged by Don Marketing or John. It was not so easy to deal without any prior notice with a letter which Don Marketing had put into discovery.
After a number of questions about the Sainsbury letter, Hobbs theatrically put it to John in the most forthright terms that the letter was a forgery. John stated unequivocally that it was not. Both then stared at each other for a long period before Hobbs averted his gaze. Hobbs then turned and asked an assistant in a stage whisper whether the motorbike had arrived yet from Sainsbury’s, thereby suggesting that hard evidence was about to be placed before the Court which would prove that John had committed perjury. This all happened at the very end of John’s testimony.
The high drama was heightened by the noise of a helicopter, which sounded as if it was hovering just outside the window next to the witness box. It was a police helicopter on duty at the anarchist riots, which caused millions of pounds worth of damage to London in the summer of 1999.
Having allowed John to ponder over the dramatic threat of the motorbike messenger of doom, the question was put to him again, but got the same categorical denial. The Court was adjourned for lunch and although John’s “evidence in chief” had come to an end, the Judge agreed to a request by Hobbs that John could be recalled. The ambush had been the climax of the cross-examination of John by Geoffrey Hobbs but the dramatic effect had been undermined somewhat because Mr Hobbs had come unstuck with his first accusation of forgery, which had been immediately exposed as a nonsense.
When John returned to his seat on the front bench Richard Woodman was quite emotional and squeezed John’s arm and complimented him on the way he had stood up to the relentless cross examination. Geoffrey Cox later remarked that Hobbs was less than happy with own performance because he knew that he had “been bested” by John.
It is unpleasant to be the subject of an intense cross-examination for three successive days, particularly when nasty unfounded allegations are sprung out of the blue. It was also embarrassing especially in view of the presence in court of friends and relatives including his cousin, Jimmy Donovan (Brother Jack’s son from his first marriage) and Jimmy’s lovely wife Sue – both extremely nice people, who kindly attended court for a number of days to show their support.
While the case had been proceeding in Court, John’s lawyers had been reflecting on the forgery allegation made by Hobbs – Geoffrey Cox repeatedly described it as an “ambush”. He was incensed and at an appropriate time, made his views clear to the Judge in strongest terms in open Court. He pointed out that John had been denied any advance notice, which would have given him the opportunity to respond in a considered way to the very serious allegation. Geoffrey Cox argued that the case should be suspended so that John would have an opportunity to have the relevant letter checked by an expert. The Judge agreed that given the serious nature of the allegation of a criminal offence this was the proper way to proceed and suspended the trial.
It is a basic rule of English (and American) law that it is not permissible to mount an "ambush" during a trial (as Mr Hobbs had clearly deliberately done). Despite this, Mr Justice Laddie had for some reason allowed him to spring his ambush. At least the Judge was now allowing John's barristers the opportunity to prove his innocence of the further false accusation from Shell. It would of course have been much preferable and proper to have had adequate time to investigate pre-trial, rather than the considerable time and cost pressures involved (hanging over our heads) with a temporarily halted trial. Of course the cost aspect meant nothing to Shell but was devastating to us. It had always been a deliberate policy of Shell to drain the resources of a financially weaker opponent. We had written evidence of that calculated policy to drag out the litigation in a letter from one of their lawyers. They had now found another way to put us under even more pressure by dragging out the trial.
John and his team met in Chambers to decide on a course of action. They established after serving a subpoena on J Sainsbury’s that the promotions staff at Sainsbury’s had disposed of all such documents years ago. John had no contact with Sainsbury’s for many years and had no way of knowing that this was the case. In other words, if Sainsbury’s had archived the files, a search would have immediately have revealed any discrepancies.
Brian Horley, the relevant Sainsbury’s promotions manager had retired and apparently had no recollection of his discussions with John despite the fact that John had an original letter from him on Sainsbury’s headed stationary which was signed by Horley. To be fair to Mr Horley, the events had transpired nearly a decade earlier. Shell and its lawyers had apparently not even contacted Sainsbury’s to try to speak to Mr Horley or seek the relevant file to try to establish the facts. Nor did they as far as we know bring their forgery allegation to the attention of the Police, which would have surely been the proper course of action if they had genuine concerns.
Furthermore they had not apparently even retained a forgery expert to give evidence or if they had, decided against using the expert opinion (which would mean that the opinion did not support their allegation). Yet they obviously had planned the ambush in advance and had plenty of time to investigate thoroughly. I can only conclude that they already knew that there was no real substance to the allegation but decided, given the high stakes, to deliberately try to undermine my son’s credibility and consequently the whole case against Shell.
As will become apparent, they did succeed in smearing him despite the absence of any credible evidence. The facts were that there was no documentary evidence obtained from Sainsbury’s – no evidence in transit – no motorbike messenger – it was all a complete charade, a total fabrication - the supposed trap amounted to outright deception practiced on John and the Court (unless Mr Judge Laddie had advance knowledge of the deception).
John was asked whether he still had the type of printer in his possession which was used to print the letters in question. The apparent reason for suspecting their authenticity was that the spacing between characters was different to other letters printed on Don Marketing letter heading. John explained that the printers in question (Qume printers made in the USA) had been given to a firm of chartered Accountants some years previously because they had the same model and had been unable to obtain spare parts as the printers were almost antique (due to fast changing technology). A former manager of the accountants, Mr Alan Hennessy was tracked down and he confirmed John’s account.
However, it was decided that John’s house would have to be searched and a report made for the Court. John was not allowed to return home. He waited until 6am the next morning and accompanied a team from his solicitors and his Barristers on the long trip to Bury St Edmunds. The house was thoroughly searched. John even discovered that they had checked through files on his computer without telling him. I was bemused and concerned at the turn of events, not because I thought John had done anything wrong, but because strangers were searching through all of our possessions. It was an unpleasant experience to say the least.
Richard Woodman decided that it was essential to approach Paul King to see if he would be prepared to give evidence. This seemed a forlorn hope bearing in mind that John had a year or so earlier assured Paul that he would not be called, as he knew about Paul’s health problems and perhaps more significantly, his concerns about retaining his Shell pension – Paul was worried that if he gave evidence on John’s behalf, Shell would terminate his pension. He would not accept assurances that Richard Woodman had given in this regard.
When pressured by Richard Woodman some weeks before the trial to ask Paul again about giving evidence, John had contacted Penny King, Paul’s wife. She made it clear that Paul genuinely was not mentally well and that she had recently advised Shell of this fact when contacted by Richard Wiseman. She had offered to supply Wiseman, or had supplied Wiseman with a letter from Paul’s doctor.
However, in view of the serious allegations sprung at the trial, Richard contacted the King family and arranged to visit their home in Colchester, Essex. It soon became apparent that it was as correctly anticipated, a wasted journey. Paul by that stage said that he could not even remember Andrew Lazenby - the person who he had previously indicated was one of his main reasons for leaving Shell. It is notable that whilst the previous litigation against Shell was still in progress, Shell had unexpectedly invited Paul to join the gas division of Shell (where Lazenby had been transferred on his return from the desert). The invitation was withdrawn after Shell settled our claims. A suspicious person might conclude that Shell had been determined one way or another to knobble a key witness.
Geoffrey Cox and Richard Woodman retained an expert on forgeries – Dr Audrey Giles, and supplied her with a copy of the all-important letters. There were no originals (as they had been mailed to Shell and Sainsbury’s in July 1990). We tried to find the first generation copies i.e. the very first copies taken from the originals. This was important because the mere act of photocopying produces a slightly different version from the first copy due to the settings and/or efficiency of the copier. John sometimes used a yellow marker to put two lines across the top corner of important copy/original letters and documents.
We then realised that some documents with the yellow marking probably disappeared before the trial. We may have found the reason for the burglary at our house. Someone may have wanted to remove them to make it more difficult for John to defend an accusation of forgery. The “burglars” had the opportunity to alter, remove, substitute, or insert documents. It was to prevent any such possible tampering on our part that caused D J Freeman to ensure that someone was guarding Shell’s discovery at all times when John was carrying out his inspection of Shell’s documents.
When the Court reconvened, forgery expert, Dr Audrey Giles, went into the Witness Box and confirmed the expert opinion she had put into writing. Basically there was no evidence of any forgery. She stated in her findings that: “The layout of the questioned 24th July 1990 letters matches that used on 1990 correspondence. The layout used on the 1996 laser printed letter is different, with the date being printed on the right, not the left as on previous correspondence. The questioned 24th July 1990 letters are, therefore, consistent with correspondence produced at Don Marketing in July 1990.” However Dr Giles could not make a definitive judgement without seeing or being able to carryout tests on originals or first generation copies. She stated, “My examinations, and therefore the conclusions which can be drawn from them, have been limited by the fact that I have not examined the original questioned letters.” In other words, it would have been impossible for her to give a definitive answer in respect of ANY second generation copy letters if she was unable to examine the original letters or first generation copies.
John later spoke to my grandson, Steven, who as previously stated, had worked at Don Marketing for several years in the computer department. Steven recalled the Qume printers. There was apparently a clear plastic bag full of different kinds of print daisy wheels. Some were best suited for printing numbers. In his opinion, someone had simply changed a daisy wheel and this was the reason for the different fonts/character spacing on different documents.
At around the time the relevant letters were printed, John and Roger were producing a winner ratio chart to take with them for a meeting at Shell-Mex House with Stuart Carson about the Star Trek game. Often there was a problem in squeezing data on to a single page. Hence a daisy wheel might have been changed to produce the mathematical chart. More than one wheel may have been tried to see which one produced the best result.
Having said that, I have checked all of the relevant letters myself and cannot detect any discernable difference in the proportional spacing. Neither apparently did Dr Giles, as she made no comment whatsoever in her report on the particular issue, which apparently had so intrigued and side-tracked the Judge. Consequently I remain mystified about that aspect.
Another apparent reason for the suspicions about the authenticity of the relevant letter was because of a variance in the form in which the name “Sainsbury’s” was printed in the two different Don Marketing letters, both produced on 24th July 1990. In a letter to Sainsbury’s, the name was consistently printed with an apostrophe i.e. “Sainsbury’s, whereas in the letter to Shell, the name was consistently printed without an apostrophe i.e. Sainsburys. Apparently the possibility that there was more than one person typing letters had not occurred to the lawyers making the accusations. In fact two different people were typing Don Marketing letters at that time. John also typed or edited some letters himself. The plain fact is that there was not a shred of credible evidence on which to base such a serious accusation, clearly designed to undermine our case.
The bottom line is that an expert of considerable standing, Dr Audrey Giles, with highly impressive credentials, including 13 years as Head of the Questioned Documents Section of the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory in London, found not a smidgen of evidence to support the allegations. Some news reports in July 2005 which include reference to Dr Audrey Giles and her expertise can be viewed by clicking on the links below.
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