On the 7th April 2013 we published an article which questioned the background of Ian Taylor, Chief Executive and President of Vitol and a major donor to Better Together. On 10th April, our website was replaced by a single page with only the message “NOT FOR PUBLICATION”, with no further explanation offered. On social media and on blogs, there was much speculation as to the reason for the site being down.
We then indicated that it we had received a threat of legal action from Vitol’s legal representatives for being “grossly defamatory”, and that Aamer Anwar would act on our behalf in any legal action. We stated that we “will not be bullied or silenced” and that our website is “offline only as a temporary measure for a few days”. It later emerged that lawyers acting on behalf of Vitol had sent similar cease and desist notices to a number of other pro-independence blogs, and also to the Herald.
At a press conference at 12 Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow on 18 April 2013, National Collective director, Ross Colquhoun, stated that we would not be “bullied” by Vitol, and argued that the situation was “David vs Goliath”. The writer of the article, Michael Gray, stated a concern about “freedom to write without intimidation”.
Please find our full statements and our legal response to Ian Taylor/Vitol Group below.
I am Ross Colquhoun, director of National Collective.
We are an open and non-party political group of artists and writers, and a campaign for a better Scotland.
With the most exciting political period for centuries fast approaching Scotland, we believe that now is the time for the country’s creative community to help shape the vision of a new society and nation.
Almost two weeks ago we published an article raising serious questions into Ian Taylor, the major funder of the no campaign against Scottish independence. Ian Taylor and Vitol’s lawyers, Collyer Bristow, then threatened to sue us.
Such corporate bully boy tactics are an attack on freedom of speech. We will not be silenced or bullied by legal intimidation. This is the world’s largest oil trading company, but it will fail if it tries to intimidate us. This is David vs Goliath. And Goliath will not win.
We stand by our article. We stand by its accuracy. We stand by its sources. Alistair Darling and Better Together still have questions to answer.
- Do Better Together believe it is good practice to accept a large donation from Ian Taylor in light of concerns raised by National Collective and others over the business practices of Vitol?
- Do Better Together believe it is acceptable to accept a large donation from an individual who is not eligible to vote in the independence referendum?
- Do Better Together believe that their principle donor threatening legal action against their political opponents is in the spirit of fair and open debate?
What did he know and does he consider this donation to be ethical? Today we are launching a petition stating that a full investigation should take place within Better Together. To sign our petition please visit www.nationalcollective.com.
People on both sides of the debate have called for Better Together to return this donation. We are backing this call. Today we launch a petition to call for Better Together to answer questions about its funding and for them to return the donation. To sign our petition visit www.nationalcollective.com
This is just the beginning for National Collective. We will grow and grow. Today I can announce that we will be resuming our campaign immediately. We are back online.
Legal intimidation will not stop us from imagining a better Scotland.
Almost two weeks ago I wrote an article raising serious questions into Ian Taylor, the major funder of the campaign against Scottish independence.
Ian Taylor and Vitol’s lawyers, Collyer Bristow, then threatened to sue Ross and I.
Today is about more that politics. This is about our freedom to write without intimidation from the powerful and the rich. Like the members of the media here today, I just want to write and investigate what is happening in the world around me. Alongside the other Scottish papers who have received legal threats from the same source, I stand by my investigative journalism.
This is a historic time for Scotland and Scotland must speak. I may only be a 21 year old student, but I will not back down.
I have never been a member of a political party. This is about the freedom of every Scot, from whatever political background, to ask the tough questions of politicians and their funders at a crucial time.
We don’t have the money or the resources that Vitol has, but we have principle. And that is priceless.
Our ref: AA/LM
18th April 2013
Collyer Bristow LLP Solicitors
4 Bedford Row,
Our Clients – National Collective – Michael Gray and Ross Colquhoun
Your clients – Vitol Group of Companies and Ian Taylor
We are instructed to act for the National Collective which includes Mr Gray and Mr Colquhoun. We refer to your letter to them dated 8th April received by email on the 9 April 2013.
We note that your clients refer to an article entitled ‘Dirty Money: The Tory Millionaire Bankrolling Better Together’ (the ‘Article’) written by Michael Gray and posted on their website, available at http://www.nationalcollective.com
We note your clients claim that the article contained “serious errors and falsehoods” and was grossly defamatory of Vitol and Mr Taylor.
We note that your concerns arose from four main areas covered in the ‘article’ and requested that they do the following:-
- Immediately remove the Article from the website
- Undertake never to republish it, and
- Apologise for the publication
You further state that if this is not done your client’s are entitled to “seek substantial damages” and reserve their rights to commence legal proceedings.
Subsequent to the receipt of your letter, we were instructed by our clients to advise you of the following action they have decided to take:
- As of this morning, The National Collective has republished the article on their website and will refuse to take it down.
- The National Collective refuses to apologise for publication on the 7th April and have incorporated a ‘right of reply’ within the original article.
- Much of what is contained within the article was already in the public domain for several years and we unaware of any legal action having been taken by your clients against the Times; Financial Times; Daily Telegraph; Daily Mail; Bloomberg; Guardian; Observer; New York Times, Reuters, as well as others. We would be obliged if you could advise if that is in fact the case.
- Are your client’s aware of last month’s unanimous Court of Appeal judgment in Rothschild v Associated Newspapers Limited  EWCA Civ 197, in which the financier, Nat Rothschild, lost his libel appeal against the defence of justification? This provided guidance on ‘the circumstances in which a defendant needed to prove only part of the defamatory allegations which have been made’.
- We assume that you accept the claims that Vitol plead guilty to Grand Larceny in a US Court [People v. Vitol SA, 07-5867, New York Supreme Court]
- In the present case the questions raised by National Collective appear to stem from the morality of the ‘Better Together’ campaign accepting a donation of £500,000 from your client. They maintain that their allegations are substantially true and justify a ‘common sting’ and claim the general charge of the article is justified by proved examples.
- Our client’s could enjoy the defence of “fair comment” on any matters interpreted as an expression of opinion.
- We can also advise that our clients are now investigating all business dealings and adverse court decisions against your clients.
- We advise that our clients, (one of whom is a student) have no assets and have instructed us to defend them should your clients persist in any legal action.
- They would be entitled to seek legal aid and the other option for them would be to enter into a conditional fee arrangement (CFA).
- You claim that you would pursue an injunction to restrain from further publication; however, we would submit it is now ‘rather late in the day’ and in any event it is our view that an interim junction is inappropriate as it would ‘usurp’ the function of a jury.
Our clients maintain that they published an article which was of national importance, in relation to the source of money donated to political organisations campaigning over the Independence Debate – in this case the ‘Better Together’ campaign. Our clients are exercising their right to free speech in a democracy.
In conclusion, our clients believe that this is an outrageous attempt to bully the ‘National Collective’ into silence and we are instructed to vigorously fight any legal action and test every allegation in the courts.
Aamer Anwar & Co.
c.c. Mark Lewis-Taylor Hampton Solicitors Ltd.