A businessman in a bitter dispute with fellow directors sent manure to one law firm and targeted an associate at another as part of a campaign of harassment, a court has heard.
His Honour Judge Lewis, sitting as a High Court judge, granted an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 against Simon Henry Lyons over his conduct, which spread from the other directors to those advising them and other third parties.
In one instance, Mr Lyons sent London firm Brecher – which acted for one of the other director’s family trust – two shovels, fake money, farm manure and handcuffs. The firm reported this to the police.
HHJ Lewis said: “The defendant denies that he ordered these items but was unable to provide a convincing explanation about how his personal Amazon account came to be used [for them].
“Looked at in the context of the wider dispute, and the allegations being made by the defendant at the time about the firm, I am satisfied that he sent them.”
The judge recorded how Farid Ghenavat, the first claimant, and Mr Lyons were friends who in 2004 set up Enstar Capital Ltd (ECL), a property management, development and investment business. Two other directors subsequently joined the company.
However, there was an “acrimonious breakdown” in Mr Lyons’ relationship with his co-directors, which reached a head in 2021.
Their claim for an injunction complained about “well over” 400 specific events, nearly all messages Mr Lyons sent to either the claimants themselves, “or to a wide range of third parties, including family members, friends, clients, banks, professional advisers, schools, religious leaders, community groups and the media”.
Mr Lyons accepted sending most them, but “tried to distance himself from some of the more unpleasant messages, claiming to have no recollection of sending them”.
HHJ Lewis said: “His evidence on this was unconvincing, and when the messages are looked at it in context it is very clear that the defendant sent them all.”
Mr Lyons argued that they did not constitute harassment or, if they did, his behaviour was reasonable “given the brutal – and he says unlawful – way in which he believes the first and second claimants pushed him out of the business”, the judge recounted.
When it came to other lawyers, he sought to threaten London firm Druces in a bid to stop it acting for ECL.
“He was also abusive, for example telling the partner at Druces that ‘surely even someone of your limited intelligence will understand that there is a conflict of interest’.” He also sought to dismiss Druces when he did not have the authority to do so.
US firm Goodwin Proctor is acting for the claimants and, in August 2022, Mr Lyons reported an unnamed partner at Goodwin to the police for “perverting the course of justice by attempting to smoke screen his clients’ criminal activities”, and for seeking an interim injunction preventing the disclosure of issues.
“Needless to say, this unmeritorious complaint did not get anywhere,” HHJ Lewis observed.
There was also a dispute over ECL’s bank account that led Mr Lyons to report an associate at Goodwin to the SRA for trying “to instruct and mislead the bank into believing that they had authority to give instruction”, when he knew this was not the case.
He also said to the SRA that Goodwin was ‘impersonating the company’ and misrepresented matters that it knew not to be true.”
He sent the email as chief executive of ECL, giving the SRA “the false impression that this was a complaint by a company about its own lawyer”.
Mr Lyons followed this up by writing directly to the associate, accusing her of “misrepresentation with intent to commit fraud”.
HHJ Lewis went on: “He threatened the firm by stating that the SRA investigation could affect the named associate’s career and suggested that she should be honest and transparent. He told the associate that the SRA will want her files, and as he has made a complaint she was now conflicted from being involved in the litigation….
“He later said to the partner at Goodwin that the SRA were investigating the associate ‘for serious offences’. There is nothing in the documents that I have seen that would have justified this attack, the complaint to the SRA, the claim of conflict, or the threats of repercussions.”
Rather, the judge said, Mr Lyons was trying to get Goodwin to stop acting; the attacks on advisers would cause the claimants “alarm and distress”.
In granting the injunction, HHJ Lewis said: “Whilst recognising the defendant’s rights of freedom of expression, I am satisfied that the course of conduct in this case, in respect of each claimant, was oppressive and unacceptable and went way beyond that which could be objectively considered reasonable.”
Under the terms of the injunction, based on voluntary undertakings Mr Lyons gave last year, he can communicate with certain named people and organisations, provided he does not talk about the claimants, “and even then he can do this through solicitors”.
But the judge removed law firms and accountancy firms from the list of protected organisations. “There may be good reason why the defendant needs to be in contact with them, particularly if they have acted in the past for ECL or done business with the defendant.
“These firms operate in professional, regulated environments. They have regulatory processes for handling complaints and will know when they are permitted to close-down correspondence. If staff at the firms themselves consider that they are being harassed, they can of course take their own protective measures.”