TripAdvisor reviewer told to pay £7,000 compensation over fake negative ratings

·4 min read
Steve Hoddy from Bispham Kitchen who took a fake reviewer to court and won (SWNS)
Steve Hoddy from Bispham Kitchen who took a fake reviewer to court and won (SWNS)

An online troll who posted a series of fake negative reviews about a restaurant on TripAdvisor has been ordered to pay £7,455 to the owner.

During his campaign of hate, Martin Stewart Potts wrote ten false reviews about Bispham Kitchen in Blackpool, Lancs., with one claiming the food made him and his family sick.

He also made fake accusations that the restaurant’s haddock was in fact “catfish” and that their chips were “fried in burnt oil”.

But Potts bit off more than he could chew when restaurant owner Steve Hoddy, a trained lawyer with a first-class degree from Cambridge, took him to court.

During a hearing at Manchester County Court a judge ruled that Potts was guilty of malicious falsehood, and he was ordered to pay thousands of pounds in compensation to Hoddy.

Speaking after the verdict, Hoddy said that trolling had become "rife” and called fake reviewers a “scourge of modern society”.

He said: “Online trolling is rife and one of the big problems nowadays. It's becoming a pandemic of its own. It wrecks businesses.

An online troll who posted fake negative reviews on Tripadvisor about a Steve Hoddy's Blackpool restaurant has been ordered to pay £7,455 to him in damages (SWNS
An online troll who posted fake negative reviews on Tripadvisor about a Steve Hoddy's Blackpool restaurant has been ordered to pay £7,455 to him in damages (SWNS

“I have owned Bispham Kitchen for 44 years now and my business is robust enough to withstand this sort of nonsense.

"But particularly for hotels it is a real problem, because people really do take note of hotel reviews because they are spending larger sums of money.

“It is the scourge of modern society.”

Hoddy said that the ten malicious reviews were written in October and November 2018.

He said: "He used eight different usernames. The first said, 'owner glares at you weirdly when you are trying to eat your fish and chips, not a nice experience.'"

“I don't normally reply to reviews, but I did to this one.

"I said 'I can assure you the owner of Bispham Kitchen is the most charming delightful person you could possibly hope to meet and he would not dream of glaring weirdly at his customers'."

However, the sarcastic response provoked a stream of negative ratings for Hoddy's chain of businesses.

He said: "It was a whole catalogue of bogus reviews.

“He knew exactly what he was doing. I traced him and I went and confronted him."

Hoddy wrote to Potts and requested he apologise.

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He said: "I warned him that unless he apologised for the reviews, I would sue him for malicious falsehood.

“Unbeknown to him, I did law at university and have two law degrees, although I don't practice as a barrister. I issued proceedings against him in Manchester County Court for malicious falsehood.

He added: "These are difficult actions to take, they are complicated and expensive. Most people could not bring this kind of case as they are complicated, and a law firm would charge a high fee for this sort of action."

Hoddy won his case and was awarded £7,455 in damages and costs.

Steve Hoddy's Bispham Kitchen usually gets positive reviews, but Martin Stewart Potts tried to disparage that reputation by posting negative comments for his businesses (Trip Advisor)
Steve Hoddy's Bispham Kitchen usually gets positive reviews, but Martin Stewart Potts tried to disparage that reputation by posting negative comments for his businesses (Trip Advisor)

He said his experience highlighted how easy it is for malicious trolls to hide their identities on websites like Tripadvisor.

He said: “You can't get anywhere with Tripadvisor to get them to reveal the identity of the reviewers.

“One of their terms and conditions is that any dispute with Tripadvisor must be decided in the court of Massachusetts, where they are based, so you would have to go to the US."

He added: "I didn't do it for the money, it was for the principle - to send a message to those who think they can damage a business or a personal reputation at will."

A UK spokesman for Tripadvisor said: "Tripadvisor takes the issue of fraud extremely seriously and we use the best in technology and human moderation practices to fight it.

"Our advice to business owners and consumers alike is simple: if you see a review that arouses suspicion or breaches any of our guidelines, please report it to us. Our team will then investigate, and act accordingly."

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