Online troll harassed restaurant with fake reviews claiming food made family ill

An online troll harassed a restaurant with a series of fake negative reviews on Tripadvisor which claimed the food made his family ill.

Martin Stewart Potts wrote 10 false reviews about Bispham Kitchen in Blackpool, Lancashire, claiming that the eatery’s haddock was in fact “catfish” and that their chips were “fried in burnt oil”.

But Potts bit off more than he could chew when restaurant owner Steve Hoddy, a trained lawyer with a first-class degree from the University of Cambridge, took him to court.

During a hearing, Judge Sephton ruled that Potts was guilty of malicious falsehood and he was ordered to pay £7,455 in compensation to Mr Hoddy at Manchester County Court.

Speaking after the verdict, the restaurant owner said that trolling had become "rife” and called fake reviewers a “scourge of modern society”.

He said: “Online trolling is rife and one of the big problems nowadays. It's becoming a pandemic of its own. It wrecks businesses.

"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 said that he received the 10 malicious reviews about his restaurant between October 23 and November 16, 2018.

He said: "He used eight different usernames and was saying things like 'the fish wasn't haddock it was catfish', and that it made himself, his wife and children ill and 'the chips were fried in burnt oil.'

"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.'

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“The problem was it was in the October half term week, 2018, which is our busiest time, serving probably a thousand customers a day."

Mr Hoddy, who is the managing director of six restaurants and a takeaway, then managed to identify more bad reviews that Potts had left under different pseudonyms about his other venues.

He added: "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.

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"With four of the usernames, he had done about a hundred reviews of other places, so I was able to piece together a picture of who he was.

“He knew exactly what he was doing. I traced him and I went and confronted him."

Trained lawyer Mr Hoddy said he began by sending Potts letters, asking him to apologise for his false remarks.

He said: "I gave him a letter warning him that unless he apologised for the reviews, I would sue him for malicious falsehood.

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

"I issued proceedings against him in Manchester County Court for malicious falsehood."

He added: "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.

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"He at first denied he had done the reviews. But when I presented him with incontrovertible evidence, he drip-fed admissions, but still resisted the case.”

At the time, Mr Hoddy contacted Tripadvisor to point out the reviews could not be correct and the website later took down the comments.

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."

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