HORSEWORLD MANAGEMENT DITCHES VISITOR CENTRE…

Web ExclusiveA sad day for HorseWorld today, with news coming in on what was meant to be the last day of a “consultation” into the options open to the Whitchurch equine charity to secure its financial future: it seems that the VISITOR CENTRE WILL DEFINITELY CLOSE this Friday 28th February.

Sources tell us that embattled managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen “didn’t even have the balls to do the deed himself”, preferring instead to send out a staff representative to spread the bad news to employees.

It is understood that today’s dark announcement confirms the decision to shutter the visitor centre made at a meeting last week of the charity’s trustees “in a SECRET LOCATION”. As one angry source told us:

[The trustees] usually meet at HorseWorld in the visitor centre cafe, but that’s a no-no for them now, of course, lest the staff actually get to meet the trustees who NEVER visit the place and, worse still, have a chance to influence their daft decision making…

As the GMB union’s Rowena Hayward – who has been acting for those facing redundancy – notes, staff “feel very pressurised, very stressed, very anxious…and VERY LET DOWN” about how the situation has been handled.

Meanwhile word reaches us that a wide variety of people connected with HorseWorld’s important animal welfare work – including staff, former volunteers and financial supporters – “have had SEVERE PRESSURE put on them, in various ways, to keep shtum and not whistle-blow these last couple of weeks.”

Taken together with recent efforts to prevent critical media coverage, it gives the impression of a coordinated effort to silence dissent in the lead up to today’s sad news – though ITV West was able to screen a news package on the threat to jobs, with papers including the Bristol Post and The Week In joining The BRISTOLIAN in shining a light on the running of the charity.

With the curious decision to close the visitor centre – and so lose a valuable point of contact with the public, and an important revenue stream – now rubber-stamped and announced, it seems likely that those who until now kept quiet will instead voice their concerns publicly.

One question remains:

Why are those at the sharp end of HorseWorld’s animal welfare work – both human and equine – the ones currently bearing the brunt of bad business decisions, and not those in senior management who actually made them?

HORSEWORLD LAWYERS REMOVE TANKS FROM BRISTOLIAN’S LAWN WHEN THEY REALISE THEY’RE SURROUNDED BY OUR ARTILLERY!

Web ExclusiveAn interesting email popped into our inbox on Friday – from Burges Salmon, the solicitors acting on behalf of the ailing senior management regime at troubled equine charity HorseWorld.

BEOFPantoHorseGateWe’ll spare you too much commentary – but suffice to say that since their earlier attempts to silence The BRISTOLIAN behind our backs (by FALSELY CLAIMING to our web hosts that we were publishing inaccurate and malicious stories about HorseWorld’s troubles), Burges Salmon appear to have figured out that unlike some ‘The Smiter’ doesn’t roll over at the first hint of trouble.

Curiously there is no specific response to the detailed, point-by-point rebuttal we sent them (and summarised online) – which shot down every last specious, inflated or misleading claim which they put to our previous web hosts. It’s almost as though they weren’t expecting us to stand up for our reports, our writers or our sources.

Well, here at The BRISTOLIAN we may have a reputation for being rough-around-the-edges, spiky and uncouth – BUT WE NEVER FABRICATE STORIES. It’s a lesson that certain other parties would be wise to learn…

BURGES SALMON
One Glass Wharf
Bristol BS2 0ZX
Tel: +44 (0) 117 939 2000
Fax: +44 (0) 117 939 4400
email@burges-salmon.com
www.burges-salmon.com
DX 7829 Bristol

“The Bristolian”
Box “Gurt Shush”
Hydra Bookshop
34 Old Market Street
Bristol
BS2 0EZ

By Email: bristoliannews@gmail.com

Our ref: 41135.1   Your ref:

21 February 2014

OPEN LETTER

Dear Sirs

Our client: HorseWorld Trust (“HorseWorld”)

We act for HorseWorld. We refer to your email to Burges Salmon dated 17 February 2014.

HorseWorld is a small local charity that relies on public support in order to keep doing the good work that it does in rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals that have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated. HorseWorld also uses the horses in its care to work with children and young people who are disadvantaged and/or have special educational needs.

HorseWorld would rather not have instructed us in relation to your website “the Bristolian”. It did so as a last resort because many of the articles on the Bristolian concerning the charity go beyond what any individual or business (never mind a small local charity) should have to put up with. To date, over a period of many months, the charity has stood by and watched the Bristolian have a serious negative impact on its reputation.

If it is not your intention deliberately to damage the charity that has certainly been the effect. The purpose of this correspondence is to draw those effects to your attention and make you aware of the possible consequences.

Presumably in an effort to avoid the consequences of your actions, the Bristolian appears to operate on an anonymous basis, there is no individual or company that takes responsibility for it and it provides no right of reply before articles are published.

We were therefore instructed to contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and alert them to the material it was hosting at the Bristolian. The ISP reviewed your website, chose not to be connected with the Bristolian anymore and the website was taken offline.

We note that the Bristolian has now found a new ISP seemingly willing to host your content, as is your right, and the website is back online. You will be aware that your new chosen ISP appears also to operate on an anonymous basis which is presumably another tactic you use to avoid the consequences of publishing material which may be defamatory or untrue.

Of course, it is easy for a website such as yours to draw attention to itself by publishing on an anonymous basis, defamatory and untrue materiaL. The truth about a small local charity trying to continue its good work for horses and disadvantaged people may be much less attractive.

However, if you are interested in the truth, senior management at HorseWorld are willing to meet you at HorseWorld’s premises and show you around so you can see the positive charitable work HorseWorld does in the local community.

If you wish to accept this offer, please contact us and we can arrange a suitable time and date.
If the Bristolian ignores this letter and offer and continues to publish defamatory content about HorseWorld, then it may be forced to protect its reputation again. However, HorseWorld wishes to avoid further action if possible.

HorseWorld hopes that you have taken on board its concerns and that you review what the Bristolian has written about it. It hopes that you take the opportunity to visit HorseWorld and see the great work HorseWorld does in the local community and that the Bristolian takes a more considered and responsible approach towards local charities in the future.

Yours faithfully

BURGES SALMON LLP

A few points:

  • In TEN MONTHS of reporting on HorseWorld, this is the FIRST TIME the charity’s management or legal representatives have contacted The BRISTOLIAN – and this was only because we foiled their attempt to sabotage us by making exaggerated and inaccurate claims to our web hosts behind our backs.
  • If, as claimed originally in the letters to the web hosts, the charity’s senior management thought they had a real claim of defamation against The BRISTOLIAN, then what does it say about their PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE that they “stood by and watched the Bristolian have a serious negative impact on its reputation” for nearly a year WITHOUT SO MUCH AS AN EMAIL, PHONECALL OR LETTER demanding corrections, retractions or apologies?
  • It’s simply not true to say that our “ISP reviewed [our] website [and] chose not to be connected with the Bristolian anymore and [so] the website was taken offline.” It was OUR suggestion to switch providers – to better enable us to defend against outrageous attempts at stifling a free press, and to spare a small community host from potential legal threats.
  • The failure to repeat any of the specific ERRONEOUS CLAIMS in the original letter to our previous web hosts – which we robustly rebutted – or to provide any of the supporting evidence we requested within the clear and unambiguous timeframe we indicated leads us to believe that Burges Salmon acknowledges that those claims of defamation were without proper foundation.
  • We reserve the right to pursue those who make defamatory, wildly inaccurate or outright untruthful claims without foundation about The BRISTOLIAN, its articles, authors or sources, whether directly to us, behind our backs to service or product providers, online, in print, verbally or telepathically.
  • Why would we want to take up the senior management team’s offer of a guided tour of HorseWorld? We already know about all “the positive charitable work HorseWorld does” – and a whole long more – from people there. As we keep saying, we are big supporters of the work done by HorseWorld, it’s underpaid staff and hard-working volunteers. Our articles have been QUESTIONING THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE, whom you now suggest we allow to schmooze us!
  • Whilst we remain happy to correct genuine errors, WE STAND BY OUR STORIES, OUR REPORTERS AND OUR SOURCES – and without evidence to the contrary, we will not surrender to what amounts to an attempt to censor a newspaper.

PANTO HORSE GATE: WILL PINOCCHIOWEN BE THREATENING TO SUE THE ‘WESTERN DAILY PRESS’ OR G.M.B. UNION NEXT?

BEOFPantoHorseGateWith HorseWorld’s senior management so concerned about public criticism of its decisions – decisions, it should be noted, that have cost the charity a lot of its money, and which currently threaten the livelihoods of dozens of hard-working staff – will it be widening its innovative ‘economic growth through legal threats’ strategy beyond The BRISTOLIAN and a student rag?

And if so, where does that leave Rowena Hayward, the GMB union official now representing around half of HorseWorld’s staff, whose letter published in the Western Daily Press on Saturday 15 February contains some stinging implied criticism of how the Pinocchiowen regime has managed the crisis at HorseWorld? Will she too be on the receiving end of a poorly drafted screed from Burges Salmon’s latest work experience? And how about Tim Dixon, the editor of the Bumpkinshire Post?

Will the threats ever end?

Union’s concerns over HorseWorld

The GMB is extremely concerned about the recent announcement from HorseWorld Trust with its intention to make 27* staff redundant out of a total of 56 workers. It does seem “odd” when it is closing its visitor centre, getting rid of two of its marketing, media staff and volunteer co-ordinator which actually enable the public to come along and help boost the trust’s coffers, to promote the work of the trust and ensure a proper volunteer structure is in place.

The trust has been running at a loss over the last five years or so leading to a net loss over that period of £2 million. Surely this can’t be down to bad management as, according to HorseWorld’s own website there are a number of very successful businessmen on the trust’s board.

The questions the GMB are asking include:

  • Why were HorseWorld accounts in deficit over the last five years?
  • What financial recovery plan is in place during the past five years?
  • How much is paid to the chief executive and the senior management team? Many of the 24 workers facing redundancy are on the minimum wage or just above
  • How much is the trust likely to save by making staff redundant, closing the visitor centre and leaving the buildings boarded up to go into disrepair?
  • The visitor accounts used to be kept separate. In 2012 this was changed and all areas of HorseWorld’s accounts were put together – why?
  • How does senior management and trustees propose to recoup income lost from the closures?
  • HorseWorld claims the only reason for the redundancy of just under 50 per cent of its staff is the rejection by Bath and North East Council of its plan to build houses on the existing visitor centre site and to seek planning permission to build a bigger visitor centre on green belt land. Yet as the charity has lost some £2 million in the last five years, the financial problems cannot be attributed solely to one decision by the local council.
  • If the board of trustees and the managing director are unable to run the trust with the current financial constraints, how will they be able to manage it in the future?
  • The GMB is unsure if some of the legacies left to the trust stipulate the land currently used by the visitor centred was bequeathed to the ‘horses’ rather than for domestic property usage.

The GMB is urging the public and supporters of HorseWorld to ask these questions and more to ascertain why 24 dedicated workers are being forced into redundancy.

The GMB is calling on the board of trustees to call a halt to this process until these questions are answered.

Rowena Hayward
Membership development officer, GMB

* We understand from contacting Ms Hayward that this first figure is a typo and that it should read ‘24’ – the most up-to-date number of jobs under threat.

PANTO HORSE GATE: THAT LAUGHABLE LAWYER’S ATTEMPT AT A THREATENING LETTER IN FULL!

BEOFPantoHorseGateFollowing on from our shock story EXPOSING the attempt to CENSOR The BRISTOLIAN, here is the full (“NOT FOR PUBLICATION”) text of the letter sent to The BRISTOLIAN‘s web hosts by city centre legal eagles Burges Salmon on behalf of HorseWorld Trust’s bosses in their risible (and inaccurate) attempt at gagging a newspaper…

Our response to some of the claims in it can be found at the bottom of the page…

 

BURGES SALMON
One Glass Wharf
Bristol BS2 0ZX
Tel: +44 (0) 117 939 2000
Fax: +44 (0) 117 939 4400
email@burges-salmon.com
www.burges-salmon.com
DX 7829 Bristol

For the attention of XXXXX

By Special Delivery Post and By Email:

XXXXX@XXXXXX

Our ref: 41135.1   Your ref:

14 February 2014

URGENT – NOT FOR PUBLICATION

Dear Sirs

Notice of hosting Defamatory and abusive content at <http://thebristolian.net/>

We act for Horseworld Trust (“Horseworld”), a charity based in Staunton Lane, Whitchurch, Bristol BS14 0QL.

Horseworld is a small UK charity caring primarily for horses ponies and donkeys. It rescues, rehabilitates and rehouse animals that have been abandoned, neglected of ill-treated. Horseworld is funded entirely through public donations and relies on public support.

1. PURPOSE OF THIS LETTER

1.1    We understand from DNS records that you are the host of the website http://thebristolian.net/ known as “the Bristolian”. The Bristolian is publishing unlawful defamatory material about Horseworld at this URL.

1.2 The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the unlawful material on the Bristolian and request that you remove or disable access to the website immediately in order to avoid any legal action being taken against you.

1.3 It is regrettable that a relatively small charity is being forced to take action but the Bristolian appears to be intent on a vexatious, abusive and defamatory campaign against Horseworld, its management, trustees and finances.

1.4 Given the public support required for a charity to operate, the continuing operation of the Bristolian is causing serious harm to the charity and it has left Horseworld with little chance but to pursue legal action to protect its reputation.

2 DEFAMATION

2.1 The material on the Bristolian’s website concerning Horseworld is voluminous. Just some examples of the defamatory material are below:

(i) Abusive comments about Horseworld’s management and trustees, in particular the Managing Director, Mr Mark Owen. Amongst other comments, Mr Owen is called an “incompetent twat”, a “crap boss”, a “dunderhead” and compared to the “back end of a panto horse”.

(ii) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen has “forbidden [staff] from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need”.

(iii) Untrue allegations that the charity is “being ridden into the ground”.

(iv) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen forced staff and “demanded” that they write to Bath and North East Somerset Council in support of Horseworld planning application.

(v) Untrue allegations that senior individuals at Horseworld have lied and “didn’t seem able to tell the truth” and that trustees have “vested interests”.

(vi) Abusive user-generated content that is in some cases linked to other feeds that publish further abusive and defamatory content.

2.2 The above is just a flavour of the content of the Bristolian and we refer you to the website for more details.

2.3 A public vexatious and defamatory website such as the Bristolian has a serious impact on a small charity that relies on public support. As well as the website itself, the untrue allegations are picked up by other media and supporters of the charity.

2.4 Serious harm is being done to Horseworld by the website’s unlawful content and continued operation.

3 NEXT STEPS

3.1 The Bristolian is hosted by you and this letter gives you actual knowledge of the unlawful content that you are hosting.

3.2 Please therefore remove or disable access to the Bristolian immediately and remove its content from the public domain. Please confirm that this has been done by 5pm on Monday (17 February 2014).

3.3 If you fail to remove or disable access to the Bristolian by 5pm on Monday, then our client will hold you jointly liable as a publisher and Court proceedings are likely to follow.

3.4 This is a serious matter and we recommend that you seek independent legal advice.

3.5 In the meantime all rights are reserved.

We look forward to hearing from you by 5pm on Monday.

Yours faithfully

BURGES SALMON LLP

Firstly, let’s just cover the specific allegations in section 2.

(i) Abusive comments about Horseworld’s management and trustees, in particular the Managing Director, Mr Mark Owen. Amongst other comments, Mr Owen is called an “incompetent twat”, a “crap boss”, a “dunderhead” and compared to the “back end of a panto horse”.

Yes, we have called Mark Owen ”an incompetent twat” (“Well, insiders retort, it’s certainly unsustainable to retain this INCOMPETENT TWAT on £80,000 per year (plus 28k company car)” – see PINOCCHIOWEN’S LAST STAND? THE ‘CUNNING NEW PLAN’ OF HORSEWORLD BOSS, 17 December 2013) and a “crap boss” (headline, LONG FACES AT HORSEWORLD AS CRAP BOSS PREPARES TO SACK STAFF, 6 January 2014).

In our 20 November 2013 story HORSEWORLD PLANNING APPLICATION, TAKE TWO: A BIT OF A PANTOMIME? (OH NO IT’S NOT!) OH YES IT IS… we also said – in reference to the whole senior management team driving the development issue – “Apparently that will suddenly make them all financial geniuses and not the same dunderheads who created a massive black hole out of the generous donations and bequests from animal lovers keen to see abused donkeys, horses and other equine beasts rehomed.”

And yes, we did caption a photo of Mark Owen with the legend “management skills of the back end of a panto horse” – not once, but three times!

In context the first three are clearly fair comment – robustly articulated opinion, even. The fourth instance cited is based on Owen’s own adventures running for charity dressed as, umm, a pantomime horse, as publicised on HorseWorld’s own website and by the BBC!

However, we are happy to concede that we don’t know 100% his precise position within said costume. If it will make him happy, we will naturally make an appropriate correction, and amend the text to “management skills of the front end of a panto horse”.

(ii) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen has “forbidden [staff] from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need”.

This simply isn’t an accurate quotation, despite the impression given by Burges Salmon in the letter.

We in fact said: “Meanwhile, while his new car’s engine purrs, HorseWorld staff complain they are forbidden by Owen – for financial reasons, of course – from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need. That costs money, of course. Something that HorseWorld pleads it has none of” (CHARITY BOSS RIDES HORSE CHARITY INTO THE GROUND, 8 May, 2013). We have reported complaints by HorseWorld staff that financial constraints imposed under the management regime overseen by Mark Owen have prevented them from undertaking what they consider to be their primary work – animal welfare.

(iii) Untrue allegations that the charity is “being ridden into the ground”.

Again, an inaccurate quotation, which apparently refers to the TEN MONTH OLD HEADLINE referred to above! And clearly the very same financial situation that is leading Owen to threaten redundancies can be viewed as the charity being “ridden into the ground”. It’s certainly not a perfect clearance, is it?

(iv) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen forced staff and “demanded” that they write to Bath and North East Somerset Council in support of Horseworld planning application.

And yet again, an inaccurate quotation! (Did Lionel Hutz prepare this letter for Burges Salmon?)

What we actually said, in an article titled HORSEWORLD REVISITED: M.D. MARK OWEN & HIS MAGIC STAFF WRITE-ATHON (published on 21 October 2013), was that “ever the resourceful spiv, Owen hatched a cunning plan to win over the BANES Planning Development Committee, which meets this Wednesday (23 October) to consider his planning application… DEMANDING staff must write to the council with letters of support for his plan! No ifs, no buts, that letter had to be penned. Only they mustn’t say they’re connected to HorseWorld, lest they undermine their case.”

This story was based on information from reliable sources, whose word we had no reason to disbelieve given their accuracy on other matters. At no point since that article was published nearly four months has Mark Owen or anyone else at HorseWorld come to us with any concerns over its accuracy. In fact, our subsequent report, in which we analysed letters in favour of the HorseWorld management plan sent to BANES council, offers circumstantial evidence that staff did feel pressure from their bosses to publicly support the development proposals, perhaps even regardless of any personal doubts.

(v) Untrue allegations that senior individuals at Horseworld have lied and “didn’t seem able to tell the truth” and that trustees have “vested interests”.

Without specific (and preferably accurate!) quotations and accompanying URLs, it’s difficult to counter this – but suffice to say we dissected what looks to a reasonable person a lot like dissembling by Mark Owen in an interview about HorseWorld’s problems on BBC Radio Bristol (HORSEWORLD BOSS GOES A BIT ‘PINOCCHIOWEN’ LIVE ON RADIO!, 21 November 2013). Can that embarrassing episode be what they mean?

And finally…

(vi) Abusive user-generated content that is in some cases linked to other feeds that publish further abusive and defamatory content.

This one is simply laughable. If anything we have made it clear, before it has even happened, that The BRISTOLIAN will not tolerate threatening comments – against anyone – being posted to the website. Neither Mark Owen nor the Burges Salmon legal interns badly C&Ping from our website can find any “Abusive user-generated content”, for the simple reason that it isn’t there.

Claiming it is would be what some in the legal profession would call a porkie-pie, right?

PANTO HORSE GATE: HORSEWORLD BOSS’S ATTEMPT TO CENSOR CRITICS

BEOFPantoHorseGateIn a SENSATIONAL development in the long-running HorseWorld financial mismanagement saga, bosses at the struggling charity have attempted to use legal threats to SILENCE critics – including your very own ‘Smiter’, The BRISTOLIAN!

On Friday 14 February we received our very own Valentine’s message from our web hosts, who informed us that they’d received a lawyer’s letter on behalf of HorseWorld Trust demanding that they “remove or disable access to the Bristolian [sic] immediately and remove its content from the public domain” by 5pm today, or… Umm… Else!

This follows similar pressure recently brought to bear on University of Bristol student newspaper Epigram and, we understand, the Chew Valley Gazette, as well as laughable attempts to shut down criticism on Twitter.

Sources close to managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen’s Whitchurch Führerbunker have also told us that “legal threats and letters are being dished out left, right and centre” at HorseWorld,  in addition to “face-to-face ‘discussions’ and ‘meetings’ with staff/ex-staff, insiders etc thought to be whistleblowing.”

We stand by the accuracy of what we have published about HorseWorld’s management in the pages of The BRISTOLIAN and online over the past ten months. In those ten months we have received not one single, solitary word of complaint – by letter, email, tweet or telephone – from HorseWorld, alleging any kind of inaccuracy or demanding any kind of corrections.

In fact, when a commenter pointed out a minor error in one of our HorseWorld stories, we immediately rectified it, in a transparent fashion.

No, instead it seems that Mark Owen or those around him have chosen to hire lawyers – at a rate of what we are reliably informed amounts to around £400 PER LETTER – to skulk around in the shadows, threatening any and all who question the direction of the charity’s leadership.

Now, if it looks like censorship, sounds like censorship and smells like censorship, then it’s probably an attempt at censorship.

For this reason, and because we want to continue giving a voice to all those low-paid workers at HorseWorld who have sacrificed so much to the charity yet who now face the chop whilst those who caused the problems keep their fat salaries, The BRISTOLIAN will NOT be removing any HorseWorld stories without good reason – at 5pm today, 5pm tomorrow or 5pm the day after.

If you want to waste yet more charitable donations trying to silence a newspaper which has been publishing accurate stories, fair comment and reasonable supposition, then go ahead. We’ll see you in court.

» See the lawyer’s letter used to try and gag us, and our response!