Fake TripAdvisor restaurant reviewer successfully sued for £7,455

The Staff Canteen

Troll reviewer made a mistake when he posted fake negative reviews of the restaurant run by a first-class Cambridge law degree holder who successfully sued him for £7,455

During what was called his ‘campaign of hate’, Martin Stewart Potts wrote 10 false reviews about the Bispham Kitchen a family restaurant in Blackpool, Lancs, on TripAdvisor. One of these fake reviews claimed the food made him, his wife and his children sick.

Another that the restaurant's haddock was in fact ‘catfish’ and that their chips were ‘fried in burnt oil’.

Unfortunately for Mr Potts, the restaurant’s owner, Steve Hoddy, is a trained lawyer with a first-class degree from Cambridge University and, after receiving these reviews, took Mr Potts to court.

During the hearing in July, Judge Sephton ruled that Mr Potts was guilty of malicious falsehood – a lie that was uttered with malice, meaning the person who spoke or wrote it knew it was false or would cause damage or harm.

He was then ordered to pay thousands in compensation to Mr Hoddy, who said, according to the Daily Mail, “The case came up in Manchester Country Court on July 19. I won and was awarded £7,455 in damages and costs.”

Times Now News reported that speaking after the verdict, Mr Hoddy said, “Online trolling is rife and one of the big problems nowadays. It's becoming a pandemic of its own. It wrecks businesses.”

While he was sure that his business could survive something like this, he was aware that it could cause serious damages to other businesses, telling Lad Bible: “I have owned Bispham Kitchen for 44 years now and my business is robust enough to withstand this sort of nonsense. But, particularly for hotels, it is a real problem, because people really do take note of hotel reviews because they are spending larger sums of money.”

Mr Hoddy also described troll reviews as 'the scourge of modern society'.

The whole incident lasted between October 23rd and November 16th, 2018 and involved 10 different negative reviews from a number of alternative accounts.

Mr Potts is alleged to have used eight different usernames for his fake reviews.

Mr Hoddy said: “He put the first review on, and it said, 'owner glares at you weirdly when you are trying to eat your fish and chips, not a nice experience.’ I don't normally reply to reviews, but I did to this one and the reply was partially humorous. I said, ‘I can assure you the owner of Bispham Kitchen is the most charming, delightful person you could possibly hope to meet, and he would not dream of glaring weirdly at his customers’. But that seemed to provoke him into the spate of reviews over the next couple of weeks.”

This happened during the October half term week, 2018, which was the busiest time for the restaurants.

Mr Hoddy, who is managing director of six restaurants and a takeaway, was able to identify more bad reviews Mr Potts had posted about his other venues again under different names.

Mr Hoddy said, “It was a whole catalogue of bogus reviews. He later put up reviews of some of my other businesses too. But he'd made the same spelling mistakes throughout the different reviews, so it was obvious it was the same person.”

After tracking down who he was Mr Hoddy confronted him. He began by sending Mr Potts letters asking him to apologise for his false remarks. 

“Unbeknown to him, I did law at university and have two law degrees, although I don't practice as a barrister.”

After Mr Potts didn’t apologise for the reviews Mr Hoddy issued proceedings against him in Manchester County Court for malicious falsehood.

“These are difficult actions to take, they are complicated and expensive.

"Most people could not bring this kind of case as they are complicated, and a law firm would charge a high fee for this sort of action.”

He also added, that, at first, Mr Potts denied that he had done the reviews but after being shown “incontrovertible evidence” he “drip-fed admissions, but still resisted the case.”  

A UK spokesman for TripAdvisor said: "TripAdvisor takes the issue of fraud extremely seriously and we use the best in technology and human moderation practices to fight it. Our advice to business owners and consumers alike is simple: if you see a review that arouses suspicion or breaches any of our guidelines, please report it to us. Our team will then investigate, and act accordingly."

Photo used in the header image © Blackpool Gazette/SWNS

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th December 2021

Fake TripAdvisor restaurant reviewer successfully sued for £7,455