False claim lands customer with bill

Posted: 27th March 2018

Apps on phoneSocial media can be a force for both good and ill and, when false allegations go viral, the impact can be catastrophic.

In one case, an online retailer on the receiving end of mistaken and deeply damaging claims that a product sold to a customer contained a dead mouse won an apology and libel damages.

The customer, Adam Brenton, complained that he had found the carcass in a packet of protein powder he had bought from the retailer. He repeated the claim on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

He also contacted his local newspaper and the story it published was later picked up by the national press. The deluge of publicity caused serious damage to the retailer’s reputation and, despite efforts having been made to wipe the allegation from the internet, it remained to some extent searchable.

Exhaustive testing of the mouse’s remains proved categorically that they had not got into the product’s packaging during the manufacturing process and were not present when it was despatched. The packaging had been unsealed and open for three weeks between delivery and discovery of the mouse’s body.

The retailer and the product’s manufacturer issued libel proceedings against Mr Brenton. In agreeing to a settlement of the case, he acknowledged that he had made a mistake and that the allegation that the product had been supplied to him with the mouse inside was wholly false and defamatory.

He also accepted that the customer service provided to him by the retailer was beyond criticism. Mr Brenton issued a public apology and agreed to make a payment in respect of legal costs of damages. The amount of that payment was not disclosed.