A British woman has been threatened with jail after leaving a negative restaurant review on the website TripAdvisor.
Back in March, Sarah Gardner posted a one-star review of High Rocks, a popular location for wedding receptions in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. In addition to hosting celebrations, the complex features two dining establishments, Giuseppe's Restaurant and the Steam Railway Pub.
Gardner shared that she had been coming to the location for years. The nurse said that she had "found the staff more and more rude each time" she visited and described the food as "mediocre at best."
Gardner revealed that shortly after posting the review, she received an 11-page notice from Cohen Davis Solicitors, the law firm that represents High Rocks. Cohen Davis Solicitors is owned by Yair Cohen, who specializes in social media and internet law.
In the letter, which was marked "Strictly not for publication," Gardner is accused of defamation against the venue. According to the Mirror, the firm claimed that Gardner's negative review had caused High Rocks "financial harm worth tens of thousands of pounds." The letter added that their client would pursue Gardner "for aggravated damages to compensate it for the full extent of its financial losses." Britain's Defamation Act 2013 requires that a business shows that a published statement has resulted in significant financial loss.
The firm ordered Gardner to present them with the dates of her visits to High Rocks, as well as receipts.
The Daily Mail reported that she was also presented with a "mocked-up draft of a court injunction," which indicated that her failure to comply with the order could lead to imprisonment or a fine.
Gardner responded to the inquiry with a quote from former Justice minister Shailesh Vara. In 2013, Vara said that changes to Britain's notorious libel laws would make it more difficult for businesses to silence consumers who criticized a business' service or products.
Cohen Davis replied to Gardner's response with a 14-page letter that demanded copies of messages that she had exchanged with others regarding her reviews of High Rocks. The letter recommended that Gardner seek legal advice.
Gardner said that she felt helpless against the law firm. She is worried about what could happen if High Rocks proceeds with their claim against her.
"The letters are very threatening. I don't know what I'll do if it goes to court. I cannot afford a solicitor so I will have to defend myself."
While Gardner's defense is that her review is an opinion and shouldn't fall under Britain's strict libel laws, the manager of Giuseppe's Restaurant disagreed.
Giuseppe Cappellazzi said that Gardner did not patronize his establishment on the date that she posted the review. Instead, Cappellazzi stated that he believes Gardner concocted the review in an attempt to hurt his business.
The restaurant manager said that this was Gardner's third, not first, negative review of his business on TripAdvisor. He added that "she took them down because they were false." Gardner didn't indicate why, or even if, she removed the review.
Cappellazzi said that Gardner had a vendetta against him, which preceded the review. Cappellazzi said the dispute stemmed from a telephone call, but he did not elaborate on what the call was about.
The proprietor said that while he would never disagree with a review, as it's someone's opinion, in Gardner's case, the review is pure fiction.
"We have never, ever disagreed with someone placing a low review. That's someone's opinion. They're entitled to that. We live in a free society. But one not entitled to pretend they visited when they didn't. It's a fabrication and we are going to take it to court."
However, in a separate report, the Daily Mail revealed the negative reviews of two other customers and the response each one received from High Rocks.
In one incident, a customer complained about the quality of her food. Cappellazzi responded to the customer's post by stating that he had reviewed the restaurant's CCTV or security camera. He appeared to dismiss her opinion, stating that she seemed to enjoy her meal.
In the second incident, a groom-to-be said that he received a letter from High Rock's attorneys. The letter threatened to bring legal action against the man unless he removed a negative review that was posted on Google Reviews.
What do you think? Have you ever received a bad review? Should a business be able to sue a customer over a bad review?
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