A few weeks ago The High Street Group became the ninth company to launch a legal complaint against Bond Review.
This complaint was not directed at me. Indeed I’ve received nothing from The High Street Group directly.
Instead it was directed at WordPress which provides third-party web design services to Bond Review.
WordPress passed the complaint to me and told me that they would be taking no further action.
Normally when this happens I don’t waste time dwelling on it. Going public about a legal complaint risks escalating it and I have better things to do. I leave it to the complainant to decide whether they want to see me in court, which so far none of them have.
Here I’m making an exception because The High Street Group has attempted to have Bond Review completely shut down on the basis of me being a “repeat infringer”.
My supposed status as a “repeat infringer” is based on the fact that I have used company logos and director images in my reviews under the “fair dealing” principle (known as “fair use” in some jurisdictions). Regular readers will know that occasionally I respond to complaints over my fair dealing usage by removing the images and replacing them with my own artist’s impressions, as a courtesy only.
Needless to say the idea that I am a “repeat infringer” by repeatedly using images under the long-established fair dealing principle is nonsense. Using images from a company’s own literature “for the purpose of criticism or review” is pretty much textbook “fair dealing”. Nor does occasionally removing “fair dealing” images retrospectively turn it into copyright infringement.
As I’ve received no direct complaint from High Street Group, this courtesy will not be extended to them for the time being. My use of their logos remains covered by fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review.
More serious than High Street Group’s moaning about their logo (which is barely copyrightable anyway, being their name in Times New Roman-style letters and a couple of simple crescent shapes) is their complaint that my articles are defamatory.
In reference to the original review, the lawyers complain
[Brev] seeks to question our client’s conduct in relation to financial investments.
Nowhere does my original article question The High Street Group’s conduct in the issue of its unregulated bonds.
In addition, it also seeks to question financial information particularly in relation to the filing of accounts and speculate whether or not the accounts of our client have been audited as required, and as a result implying that our client is neither honest or truthful with its investors.
This is presumably in reference to the following paragraph in my review:
The investment literature claims that the group made 26 million profit in 2016 and has 100 employees. This is curious, because that level of profit and workforce would require the group to file full accounts with Companies House, yet High Street Grp Ltd’s last accounts (30 December 2016) were filed under the small company regime. This means the accounts did not have to be audited or display a profit and loss statement.
There is no speculation involved here. High Street Group’s investment literature said what it said. The small company exemptions are what they are, and a company with £26 million profit and 100 employees is required to file full audited accounts as it has turnover over £10.2m and more than 50 employees.
Both High Street Commercial Finance (the company issuing the bonds) and High Street Grp (the holding company) have continued to file unaudited accounts under the small companies regime.
The lawyers do not attempt to explain this discrepancy.
The lawyers continue:
The article appears to suggest that our client is not truthful and their actions are not be trusted [sic].
Nothing remotely resembling this ungrammatical assertion appears in my article, which means the only people talking about the possibility that High Street Group “is not truthful and their actions are not be trusted” are their own lawyers.
Moving on to my article about High Street Commercial Finance’s 2017 accounts, the lawyers claim
The content is completely misguided, factually inaccurate, is unqualified, flawed and without foundation.
At least they didn’t add “vulgar, insensitive, stupid, has no taste, a lousy sense of humour, and smells.”
Unfortunately HSG’s lawyers also don’t add any evidence whatsoever of any factual inaccuracies in the article, which factually reported the contents of High Street Commercial Finance’s own accounts submitted to Companies House.
My original review can be summarised as pointing out that a loan to a small unlisted company which, at the time of the review, offered returns of up to 11.66% per year, is inherently very high risk.
Since that review High Street Group has offered seven-year bonds which start at 12% per year and escalate by 2% each year, eventually paying returns of 22% per year.
Any investment which offers returns of 22% per year (if it is still around in seven years’ time) is clearly extremely high risk.
If The High Street Group thinks this is libel then they’re very welcome to test that in court.
We’re still here, and waiting
As I said, I don’t usually bother escalating a legal threat by going public with it.
But if you’re going to ask for the entire blog to be shut down over a couple of fair-dealing images, and make vague accusations of being “completely misguided, factually inaccurate” without pointing out any inaccuracies, then I’d say we’re pretty high up already.
So, The High Street Group, put up or shut up.
My blog is not anonymous. Webhosts don’t allow anonymous people to run websites on their bandwidth. Nor do they allow anonymous people to say whatever they like and take the legal flack for them. There’s a clear legal process in place for taking me to court and it’s your choice whether to follow it.
Although given that failure to file accounts on time is a criminal offence under the Companies Act, High Street Group should probably prioritise their legal issues.
High Street Commercial Finance Limited has been overdue with its accounts since 27 September 2019.
High Street Group completes structure of Newcastle’s biggest erection
In other High Street Group news, the structure of Hadrian’s Tower, the biggest skyscraper in Newcastle at 27 stories, has been completed.
Property agents are currently selling flats in the work-in-progress tower with “7% net yield guaranteed for 5 years”.
Completion of the tower is scheduled for May 2020, according to the BBC.
Gary Forrest, chairman of developer The High Street Group of Companies, said: “When we first came up with the idea of building Newcastle’s tallest tower on this site, everyone said we were crazy and that it could not be done.
“They said there would be no demand for apartments without car parking; they said the project would never achieve the value we placed on it; someone even said it would be a white elephant.
Anonymous people sniping from the sidelines say the darndest things.
“But we’ve had the courage of our convictions and, working with Tolent, we have made this happen.
Putting any legal dispute to one side, I’m happy to congratulate The High Street Group on their achievement.
All they need to do now is generate enough money from the sale of apartments, and their other developments, to pay returns of up to 22% per year after costs and overheads.