CHAPTER 31 - THE END GAME
Settlement discussions between the lawyers had started on the first day of the trial following the unexpected comments in open Court by the Judge, Mr Justice Laddie. The Judge even called the lead Counsel into his chambers to encourage settlement discussions.
At the commencement of the second week of the trial, the Judge said that he wanted to make it plain in open Court that he was very disappointed that the parties had apparently ignored his plea that they should try to reach a settlement. Following this further intervention by Mr Justice Laddie, I received a letter from D J Freeman once again proposing what is known as a “walk-away” deal – where the action is withdrawn and all parties to the action pick up there own legal costs. I rejected the proposition but asked that the Judge be given a copy of my rejection letter and other information, which I had supplied. The case continued.
As the questioning of Andrew Lazenby had reached a crucial stage Shell had a major incentive at this particular point to try to prevent Lazenby being subjected to potentially damaging cross-examination as Mr Cox had reached the most important questions. Shell was also well aware that even if they won the case, they could not stop us from telling the truth about the corrupt practices which had come to light during the course of the litigation. We also had the documentary proof which could stimulate litigation against Shell by several other companies cheated by Lazenby. His conduct was also obviously totally at odds with the “Profits & Principles” pr campaign line designed to portray Shell as a global ethical brand. If information leaked out into the public domain it could potential impact on Shell’s share value. Shell was juggling with dynamite. Thus Shell management was playing for very high stakes indeed and had a considerable incentive to resolve the dispute.
John in turn had all kinds of colossal pressure on him: -
1. The trial was not going well. The chain of inexplicable events – the loss of David Christian and McMahon, followed closely by the “fraudster” ambush, had created havoc with the trial timetable and the legal costs. The Judge had complained that the time estimate for the length of the trial had been hopelessly underestimated. His Clerk had been advised to set aside a three-week period. A number of weeks had already passed and as far as the Judge could see, the case would still take a further three weeks to complete. The combined legal costs according to the lawyers had apparently already climbed to over a million pounds (about $1.5 million US dollars).
2. The legal aid had not materialised even though John was fully entitled to it. Shell had made an unfounded allegation in a letter to the Legal Aid Board but the trial had arrived too quickly for a Judicial Review of the decision and if he lost the case, he would be responsible for the entire legal costs – in other words certain bankruptcy and with his deadly enemy Shell as his main creditor.
3. Richard Woodman had gone out on a limb to honour his pledge to stand by John to the end of the case. John had overheard a conversation whilst waiting at his solicitors offices – it was clear Richards’s partners were becoming increasingly concerned at the situation and John was worried that if the case failed, Richard could himself end up in real difficultly.
4. Given my state of health at the time (as confirmed by the Doctors letter given to the Judge), John was extremely concerned about me being called to give evidence.
5. John knew that his legal team were alarmed at the prospect of making us homeless if the case was lost. They would be faced with enforcing the charge over his home under the most difficult circumstances - with two elderly unwell pensioners involved. Being extremely kind and decent people, the prospect of having to have us evicted terrified them. It probably also worried Shell for obvious PR reasons.
6. Shell had made it plain that if they lost they would go to the Court of Appeal, then if necessary to the House of Lords and ultimately to The European Courts. Given that we had scraped the barrel to get to the High Court and had no legal aid there was no obvious prospect of John being able to go any further.
Consequently there were powerful reasons on both sides to reach a settlement. We were informed that the deal which emerged after complex negotiations was personally approved by the then Royal Dutch Shell Group Chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.
So what was the bottom line result?
Once again we were back to smoke and mirrors. As part of the negotiated settlement, a so called “joint” press release was subsequently issued by Shell which did not reflect what had actually happened. The following are extracts from an article published by the “East Anglian Daily Times” on 7th July 1999 which was based on the press release.
“A DAVID and Goliath court battle between oil giant Shell and a promotions expert who claimed they ‘pinched’ his idea and turned it into a highly successful Smart loyalty Scheme has ended in stalemate. A joint statement issued afterwards said Mr Donovan had abandoned his claim against Shell along with related libel proceedings, ‘He acknowledged the claims were without foundation and should not have been brought’ said the statement. It added that he had also withdrawn all allegations of impropriety made against Shell or its employees in connection with the proceedings and has agreed not to repeat them in any manner. Shell acknowledged the proceedings were brought in good faith and they also withdrew allegations of impropriety made in the course of the proceedings… Mr Cox had accused Shell’s witnesses of appearing to have ‘corporate amnesia’ yet claimed Mr Donovan had a ‘trusted and successful’ record with Shell”.
The press release deliberately deceived the Judge, the media, the public, Shell staff and Shell shareholders. John had repeatedly sent his solicitors back to the negotiating table until a satisfactory deal was agreed that saved Shell’s public face whilst meeting his bottom line financial requirement based on his realistic assessment of the situation at that time. The compromise result was not a stalemate. Neither was it a victory for any party. From Shell’s standpoint the compromise deal kept the lid on a sinister tale of intrigue, deception and corrupt practices within their company.
Shell insisted that we obtain Independent legal advice when signing the peace settlement documents. Despite my confused mental state at the time, and the fact that I had NO legal representation of my own to advise me, I was asked to go with John to sign the peace documents in the presence of a so called “independent” solicitor. He happened to be Carl Vincent, who by now was a partner at an upmarket firm of London solicitors. Yes, the very same Carl Vincent who had been so intimately involved in the litigation including the Smart claim; the same Carl Vincent who had face-to-face discussions with Shell Legal Director Richard Wiseman. There must be thousands of solicitors available in London. Under the circumstances the appointed independent solicitor was about as far removed from being “independent” as it was possible to be. I am not casting any aspersions but merely stating the facts. To the best of my recollection the “independent” legal advice was not confirmed to me in writing.
John and I were advised that neither of us would need to travel down from Bury St Edmunds to attend the final Court session because the only business before the Court was the rubber stamping process in the form of a Court Order recording the resolution of the action. In fact, as we later discovered, it turned out to be one of the most bizarre episodes of the whole trial because of comments made by the Judge which indicated that he had believed the evidence given by Lazenby. He had also apparently fallen for the smear tactics and court room conspiracy used by Geoffrey Hobbs QC in regards to the unsubstantiated allegations of forgery. John was given a verbal briefing by his legal advisors on what transpired. He was not however made aware of the scope or dramatic nature of the Judges comments.
I have already mentioned the remarkable series of coincidences, relating to Mr Tom Moody-Stuart, the son of our main opponent, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart. I therefore sincerely hope that the “Judges Comments” were based solely on his assessment of the evidence heard up to the point where the case was settled and not because of any bias, inadvertent or otherwise.
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