Trying one's patients – Help the Signature Four

by Free Speech Union

Trying one's patients – Help the Signature Four

by Free Speech Union
Free Speech Union
Case Owner
We are a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members and campaigns for free speech more widely.
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Free Speech Union
Case Owner
We are a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members and campaigns for free speech more widely.
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Latest: Feb. 14, 2024

An important milestone, but the fight is far from over

Another Free Speech Union member has had their day in court against Signature Clinic since this crowdfunder went live last month, and was resoundingly vindicated.  

Like the four members here, Tr…

Read more

A group of Free Speech Union members – Jade, Karen, Kate and Mohammed – are being aggressively pursued in the courts after posting honest reviews online.  They feel they have done nothing wrong, but face potential financial ruin. They need your help. 

Each member of the group paid out thousands of pounds for a surgical procedure at the same private clinic.  Each had a bad experience: either they found the experience itself to be unpleasant, or they were unhappy with the final results.   

This wasn’t just a faulty product they could take back to the shop for an exchange or a refund.  It was their own body.  Having exhausted all options, they left online reviews, to let others know about their experience.  No trolling or vexatious complaints, just an account of what happened to them and why they thought it was unsatisfactory.   

That is when the lawyer’s letters started arriving.  One of our members was accused of malicious fabrication.  Others were threatened with eye-watering legal bills and five-figure sums for damages, one even with committal imprisonment for contempt of court unless they took down their review.  Jade, Karen, Kate and Mohammed had  a choice: either give in, despite feeling that they had done nothing wrong; or stand their ground, and face potential financial ruin. 

The defendants here have stood their ground, and now they need your help.  Their fight isn't just about them, it's about defending the cornerstone of our freedom: the right to speak up honestly.   

Meet the defendants: 

When Kate decided to opt for a cosmetic procedure, she did her research online and decided that Signature Clinics promised good results at a fair price.  In part, this is because they performed the procedure under local anaesthetic, cutting out the expense and the risk of a general.  But Kate says that the anaesthetic she was administered didn’t seem to work as she was in “excruciating pain”.  After an aftercare process she found unsatisfactory, she asked for a refund so she could pay for revision surgery.  The clinic offered to do that surgery for her, but she felt they had lost her trust and reiterated her request for a refund, to no avail.   

Having exhausted every avenue she could think of, she eventually took to an online review website. Within days, she received her first legal threat, alleging that her review was defamatory, and insisting she take it down.  The clinic’s lawyer accused her of going on a “hate campaign”, that her request for a refund was a form of “blackmail”, and he claimed to have reported her to the police for “harassment”.   

Mohammed was also impressed with the positive online reviews of Signature’s work.  He decided he needed only subtle work done, and says he made that clear to the surgeon.  After the procedure, Mohammed felt too much tissue had been removed, leaving him with an unsatisfactory outcome.  On raising it with the surgeon, Mohammed says he was told that the surgeon “makes dreams come true”, and it was suggested he might have body dysmorphia. 

Mohammed left a review, outlining his experiences.  The next day, he received a phone call, threatening him with court proceedings unless he took his review down.  He refused, and so the clinic began proceedings against him.  In his email correspondence with Mohammed, the clinic’s lawyer repeatedly tried to make deleting his review a precondition for Mohammed seeing the surgeon to discuss Mo's eyes. 

Karen also attended Signature Clinics for a procedure on her eyes.  She was told that the surgery would be painless, but she found it to be excruciatingly painful. Still in pain after the surgery, she was advised by a nurse to apply a cold drink can to her eyes. 

Karen left a review complaining about her experience.  She wanted to encourage others to do their research before undergoing surgery, and to read both the good and the bad reviews.  She, too, was threatened with legal action. 

Jade was very optimistic about her procedure. She had enjoyed a pleasant exchange of messages with her surgeon and was impressed by his credentials.  On the day, she says he presented a different face: rude, brusque, seemingly in a rush.  She found the surgery “absolutely awful” due to pain she felt.  The surgeon seemed to Jade unmoved by her concerns.   

Wanting to tell others about her experience, Jade also left a review.  Within 48 hours a letter arrived from the clinic’s lawyers, which left Jade feeling intimidated and scared, and she took the review down.  Realising that, on reflection, she had done nothing wrong and had every right to post a truthful review, she posted a further review expressing regret at her deletion of the previous review and advising other users to research Signature carefully before using them. 

About the case: 

All four defendants are being sued for defamation and malicious falsehood.  Mr Justice Nicklin, the Judge in Charge of the High Court Media and Communications list, has ordered that the claims be dealt with together.  The next step is for the "meaning" of the members' reviews to be resolved (this is often an initial stage in libel actions).  Subject to the ultimate determination on meaning, the members anticipate their defence be that their reviews were their honest opinion, and/or they were true.  They may also run defences that publication was in the public interest, and that their publication is protected by qualified privilege. 

The clinic itself has been investigated by the Care Quality Commission and one of its branches has been ranked “Inadequate”, due to findings of insufficiently trained staff, serious safety concerns, and lack of managerial oversight.  

The defendants acted without malice, wishing merely to record their personal experiences on a site designed to allow them to do so.   

 Our members have secured excellent representation from leading media firm RPC, who are doing everything they can to keep costs down while ensuring the Four get the representation they deserve.  The Free Speech Union is assisting the group, working to further drive down costs.  But this kind of litigation is expensive. While there is significant overlap between the four claims, each of the defendants still has an individual case with its own nuances and details. 

This account aims to provide a fair account of the members' position at the time of writing which is being shared here in the public interest, including to help them each secure access to justice. 

The case has been given prominent media coverage, including in the Times, the Daily Mail, and on Times Radio. 

Why it matters: 

This is not an isolated problem. The use of litigation to threaten people who speak out – known as SLAPPs (strategic litigation against public participation) – is well known. The Free Speech Union believes the claims brought against Jade, Karen, Kate and Mohammed warrant the term ‘SLAPP’. We are gravely concerned at the use of these tactics against consumers who, unlike journalists and authors, do not have the legal and financial backing of a publisher.  

Your donation will empower our members as they bravely continue their fight, and stand against the use of legal force to silence honest voices. 

The funds raised through this campaign will go towards funding Kate, Mohammed, Karen and Jade's legal fees incurred in defending the defamation proceedings.

What does Signature say? 

 Signature Clinic describes itself as one of the country’s leading groups that provide cosmetic, non surgical and hair restoration treatments. 

Signature strongly denies the accounts given by Kate, Mohammed, Karen and Jade or that the service it provided was deficient in any of the ways alleged.  They say the reviews were published maliciously and have each caused serious financial loss. 

In response to media reports about the litigation, the clinic has said it is a reputable brand that carried out 7,000 procedures last year and has treated more than 20,000 patients. It said the vast majority of patients were delighted with its services, that six cases of litigation were not indicative of a SLAPP and that it had the right to take legal action over “untrue or defamatory” reviews. It said it was “entitled to protect the goodwill in its name and its business reputation as an asset of value”. 

Update 1

Free Speech Union

Feb. 14, 2024

An important milestone, but the fight is far from over

Another Free Speech Union member has had their day in court against Signature Clinic since this crowdfunder went live last month, and was resoundingly vindicated.  

Like the four members here, Tracy had posted online about her experience with the clinic.  Shortly thereafter, the clinic’s lawyer wrote to her and used the threat of imprisonment for contempt of court to tell her to stop her ‘itchy fingers’.  The case against her was thrown out by a district judge, who declared that it was ‘totally without merit’, and fell far short of the legal standard required for Signature to have brought it in the first place.  You can read more about it in the Times.  

Yet despite the sharp criticism from the judge, the clinic has persisted with its legal action against the Signature Four and, should they be unable to defend themselves in court, the threat to them remains as real as ever.

We would like to thank all of you who have donated so far and taken us across the threshold to our initial target, which has been invaluable in preparing the Four’s cases for court.  We look now towards our stretch goal, and ask now that you please keep up your vital and unwavering support.  

Let’s ensure that Kate, Mohammed, Karen and Jade are supported all the way, and stand up for freedom of expression and the right to leave honest reviews online.

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