Two ex-employees of controversial managing agent Richard Davidoff who posted critical Google reviews with fake names of the services of ABC Estates have failed to block efforts to sue them for defamation.
LKP is informed that they may already be looking at costs against them of £36,000, with more to come if the libel action comes to court and they are again unsuccessful (see costs order application below).
Dhir Doshi and Thomas Govan, formerly in paid employment with ABC Estates, had applied to the high court for the libel case to be thrown out.
But deputy master of the rolls Basil Yoxall has ruled that it can go ahead.
ABC Estates and the Davidoff family – Richard, Hanni, Tamara and Debby – claim that the critical reviews’ meaning is that they “are fraudsters and dishonest because they run a fraudulent and dishonest enterprise (or enterprises) which inflate prices artificially, charge for services not rendered and pursuant to falsified invoices and publish or cause to be published fake reviews of their services in order to deceive prospective clients into obtaining their services, and in so doing have committed criminal offences”.
The Davidoffs claim that the two ex-employees were acting in concert, although this is denied.
The two were unmasked after a “Norwich Pharmacal application” revealed the IP addresses used for the reviews: this process has been deployed frequently to identify anonymous postings online.
Mr Govan denied, through solicitors, that he was the author of the reviews: “Mr Govan now accepts that the denial was a lie,” the judge noted.
The judge also dismissed arguments that the allegations were out of time as more than a year had passed since initial publication; and that there was no evidence that they were in fact damaging.
“No doubt the question of serious harm will be controversial at the trial,” said the judge.
He added: “The case concerns serious allegations of dishonesty made against people in business.”
At the hearing the Davidoffs’ barrister laid emphasis on the family being, in the judge’s words, “active members of the Jewish community in and around the Edgeware and Hendon areas of North London”.
Both Mr Doshi and Mr Govan used Jewish names for some of their critical reviews. But it was not asserted that there had been an anti-semitic intent behind doing so.
Although the decision of the Association of Residential Managing Agents in November 2021 to expel ABC Estates from membership was raised at the hearing, it is not referenced in the judge’s ruling.
ARMA took its decision following a property tribunal ruling in August 2021 that Richard Davidoff had “breached his fiduciary duties” as a section 24 court-appointed manager at a site in South London.
The tribunal said that a major works scheme had ballooned from £10,000 to £100,000 and Mr Davidoff was not a “satisfactory witness”, was arrogant and dismissive of the leaseholders and had proposed to entrust the major works to a company whose sole director was the wife of the head of block management at ABC Estates.
Sir Peter Bottomley has also raised concerns about Mr Davidoff’s business practices in an Early Day Motion and has urged government ministers “to listen to the former employees of Mr Davidoff raising whistleblowing details of his business practices”.
Sir Peter has also tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions concerning section 24 appointments.
Leaseholders contacted LKP to express dismay at the latest decision. While the use of made-up names and critical reviews by Mr Doshi and Mr Govan was not condoned, the leaseholders say that the two had alerted them to concerns with ABC Estates and did not have a mercenary agenda.
The full ruling of deputy master Yaxall is here
The costs order application is here