CIELA’s legal response to Purplebricks’ lawyers’ anticipated letter alleging libel
In light of the fact that several journalists declined to publish the op-ed piece written by Charlie Wright regarding the ASA ruling against Purplebricks for fear that it was libellous, he has decided to publish the following statement. This statement clarifies exactly why the piece is not defamatory, pursuant to the UK’s Defamation Act 2013.
Another purpose of publishing this explanation is that CIELA is expecting a letter from Purplebricks’ lawyers demanding that he take down his published op-ed piece. He will refuse to do so based on the following points of law.
The tort of defamation in the UK (libel in this situation, as the publication was in writing) requires that there have been “serious harm” — this means it has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant. Harm to the reputation of a publicly traded company is not “serious harm” unless it has caused or is likely to cause the body serious financial loss.
An entire defence to an action for defamation is if the statement complained of is substantially true. This applies in full to the statements made by Charlie Wright.
Another entire defence to an action for defamation is honest opinion. This applies in full to Charlie Wright’s publication. He clearly indicated this was his personal opinion (see 1 below); he indicated the general and specific terms of the basis of that opinion (see 2 below), which is bolstered by the objective ASA ruling that in fact Purplebricks’ advertising is misleading. Further, an “honest person” could have held this opinion on the basis stated by Charlie in his publication. Many agents, as clearly visible from the comments on the different forums regarding this publication, hold the exact same opinion regarding Purplebricks’ advertising and specifically, Michael Bruce’s conduct.
1. “Tricking vulnerable people into parting with money they can’t afford to lose for a service which might result in a sale of their property is not clever; it’s criminal, exploitative conduct that to me is worse than the Wonga.com scandal. . . . I would not be surprised to see a class action being brought against Purplebricks by its customers. Anyone who profits at the expense of misled customers is, in my mind, tantamount to a thief, and should be treated accordingly . . . . You are nothing more than a common thief to me, the Del-boy of conmen who got lucky, abusing the livelihoods of other honest people so you can go and buy another shiny, ill-fitting suit.
“If this sounds personal, it’s because it is. I have been serving independent agents for almost 20 years. They are the unsung heroes of people who need help to move house. What he has done, at the expense of them and their customers, is despicable.”
2. “Purplebricks’ success depends upon misleading marketing and lies about their completed sales rate. One specific lie I refer to is Michael Bruce’s repeated claim of how many properties they sell. He resolutely refuses to confirm that these figures represent completed sales, but continues to claim that a property with an accepted offer is countable as sold, and in doing so continues with the misleading tactics, aka lying.”