Autism charity could face claims for up to £150,000
A CORNISH autism charity abused the court system and harassed former employees it accused of using confidential information to start up a rival firm, a judge declared.
Spectrum, which runs 23 specialist homes in Cornwall, could now face a claim for damages of more than £150,000.
The charity employing 450 people, which runs the Pearl Centre in Truro and Three Bridges School in Blackwater, claimed former staff Jo Pyrah, Jo Burn and Pier Webster, and rival provider Green Light PBS Ltd, were in breach of confidence.
It alleged they used confidential finance information, knowledge of its e-mail system and employees' names and addresses, and that Green Light used information relating to rent paid for leases and the identity of its service users and unidentified confidential information in an approach to Cornwall Council.
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It claimed Green Light had an "unhealthy relationship" with Cornwall Council and there was a "conspiracy" involving complaints against Spectrum, none of which was proved.
The judge dismissed allegations Green Light used Spectrum's pricing information, saying both operated in a narrow market where price undercutting should be easy to detect.
He said Spectrum's lack of evidence, especially its failure to carry out a forensic examination of computers used by the trio while working for the charity, did nothing to support its allegation of misuse.
Cornwall Council confirmed it commissioned autism services from Spectrum and Green Light, but was not involved in legal proceedings.
Spectrum's 16-month case was struck out as speculation at Patents County Court on September 24, where Recorder Douglas Campbell ruled: "I infer that the purpose of this litigation is harassment of competitors and former employees, rather than the protection of the claimant's rights. At every stage the claimant's approach appears to have been calculated to keep the litigation going rather than to conduct it in a reasonable, cost-effective and proportionate manner."
He stated the claimant showed no signs of wanting a trial while the defendants incurred hefty legal costs and it was an "abuse of process".
Spectrum's application to have the case transferred to the High Court was dismissed in July.
Green Light managing director Mr Pyrah said the case took its toll on its 60 staff and left it facing legal costs believed to be in excess of £150,000. It runs homes in Portreath, Goonhavern and Newquay.
He added: "It was very difficult, frustrating and extremely stressful. Thankfully, we believe justice has been eventually served by having the proceedings struck out."
He said the action, launched weeks after he set up his business in May 2011, was "disappointing" and will have done little to help the reputation of local autism services or Spectrum.
"It is inconceivable that these proceedings and Recorder Campbell's judgment would have enhanced either and particularly with respect to the conduct of an organisation purporting to be a charity."
Lucy Morgan, from Spectrum's solicitors, Follett Stock in Truro, said the judge gave permission to appeal his finding the claim was an abuse of process.
Spectrum chief executive Mary Simpson said in a statement: "Naturally, we are disappointed by Recorder Campbell's decision, though pleased that he should have expressed doubt in his own decision by granting us permission to appeal. We will now review the position with our advisers before pursuing that appeal."