Safetynet Security Limited v Leonard Coppage & Freedom Security Solutions Limited

 

The Message

Witnesses must be careful to tell the truth because of the obligation to give Disclosure.

The Case

In a claim involving breach of employment obligations, the Court was very critical of the Defendants’ defence and, in particular, as to the honesty of their witness evidence The Claimant, Safetynet Security, provides security guards and door supervisors for properties, including clubs, pubs and bars. Mr Coppage was its Business Development Director and then Operatioons Director from 2008 until he left in mid-April 2012. Immediately following his departure, 5 of the Claimant’s 94 customers gave immediate notice to terminate their contracts and subsequently took their business to the Second Defendant, Freedom Security.

The Claimant immediately pursued proceedings against both Defendants on the basis that Mr Coppage had breached the non-solicitation clause in his contract of employment and also acted in breach of his duties as a Director. It was claimed he was the controlling mind of Freedom Security even though he was not a shareholder or employee of this new company.

Mr Coppage unsuccessfully argued he had resigned due to breach of his employment contract by the Claimant and that the non-solicitation clause was unenforceable as a result of the Claimant’s conduct and/or because it was unreasonable and in restraint of trade. The Court held that the clause preventing Mr Coppage contacting any former customers for 6 months after his leaving had clearly been agreed to by him throughout his contract and was reasonable and enforceable, particularly as he was such a key player in the Claimant’s business and had contact with all customers and had not been unfairly treated by the Claimant.

Mr Coppage denied having solicited any of the Claimant’s 5 customers in question or being involved in the setting up of Freedom Security. However, following an Order for disclosure of his telephone records, it became apparent he had had 135 telephone calls and sent 175 texts to them. Mr Coppage then claimed that all this contact was purely friendly and did not involve discussion of work matters and that he had accidentally deleted his text messages but the Court did not accept this.

It also transpired that Mr Coppage sent 84 texts and made 62 calls in April 2012 to Mr Hanley, the alleged owner of Freedom Security, who was a 21 year old apprentice electrician and part-time door supervisor with no managerial experience who, miraculously, secured business overnight for the new company with no marketing or business plan.

The Court further noted that all 5 customers had given notice to the Claimant in similar form and their written evidence was very similar as well and it held that Mr Coppage was involved in drafting this documentation at a time when he failed to appreciate that his phone records would have to be disclosed and would reveal the truth.

The Court had no hesitation in disbelieving all the Defendants’ evidence and holding that Mr Coppage did act in breach of the non-solicitation clause as well as his duty as a Director not to act in conflict with the interests of the company. It held that he was the controlling mind of Freedom Security and it granted the Claimant all the relief it sought to protect its business as well as £50,000 in damages.

In this case, there was clearly a failure by the Defendants and their witnesses to appreciate what the Court process involves and how difficult it is to successfully fabricate a defence.