Avid watchers of the investment reality series Dragons’ Den will easily recall the scene where a charming Jamaican individual, going by the name of ‘Levi Roots’, ascended upon the dragons with a guitar singing his own catchy song about nothing other than ‘his grandmother’s secret recipe’ condiment – Reggae Reggae Sauce. The light-hearted pitch was quickly followed by a £50,000 investment by Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis. However, proceedings in the High Court have unveiled that the truth is a lot less romantic.
Proceedings in the case entitled Bailey v Graham  EWHC 3098 (Ch) the claimants, Bailey and Williams, claimed that Graham (Levi Roots) had breached an oral agreement reached between the parties whereby Bailey (who claims to have been the original founder of the recipe) would jointly exploit the commercial prospects of the condiment with Graham and Williams. Equally, Bailey alleged that, failing a finding of a contractual agreement, it could be alleged that Graham had breached his duty of confidence by disclosing confidential information.
Interestingly, a significant majority of Judge Pelling QC’s evidence consists of an analysis of the creditibility of the claimants and defendants evidence – frankly, a useful read for any witnesses called upon to give evidence in court. The claimants’ credibility is called into question in cross-examination conducted by Ian Glen QC ( of 5 King’s Bench Walk) and Mark Vanhegan QC (of 11 South Square). The cross-examination revealed discrepancies in the witness statements which, along with being described as evasive, Judge Pelling QC referred to it as evidence which could not safely be accepted by the court.
The credibility of the defendant was equally questioned by the High Court Judge. Several circumstances of concern led the Judge to conclude that Graham’s evidence could also not be accepted at face value. Firstly, Graham had boldly claimed in his pitch in front of the millionaire investors that the recipe for Reggae Reggae Sauce could be traced back to the singer song-writer’s grandmother – which the proceedings revealed was untrue. An attempt to mitigate this finding by Graham that this amounted to nothing more than a marketing ploy was rejected by Judge Pelling, who opined that marketing may allow for exaggerations of what may legitimately be claimed but did not stretch to what could be dubbed as fraudulent misrepresentation (para 34). Delivering another damning blow to Graham’s credibility was the role of his previous convictions – and a relatively surprising list at that. Graham was arrested for burglary as a juvenile, something Judge Pelling thought could not impact his credibility due to the amount of time that had lapsed; however, more recent convictions for assaulting a police officer, conspiring to supply heroine, and unlawful possession of a firearm in his later years, for which he served a substantial term in prison, could not be ignored in the Judge’s opinion.
Having decided that the evidence of both the claimants and the defendant was to be taken with caution (unless it could be admitted or corroborated), Judge Pelling went on to evaluate the credibility of various witnesses who gave evidence.
In dismissing the claim, Judge Pelling concluded that the claimants had not proved on the balance of probabilities that an agreement to exploit the commercial prospects of the condiment had been entered into. This was backed by a lack of documented evidence as to either the agreement or the recipe which Bailey claims to have founded. Equally, in dismissing the claim for breach of confidence, Judge Pelling ruled that the information provided was not sufficiently certain and open to interpretation by chefs.
Whilst Graham may have breathed a sigh of relief to learn the claim had been dismissed, preventing Bailey and Williams from having a proportion of equity in the holding company, which holds the licence for the sauce, transferred into their name, the damage done by virtue of the bad publicity in revealing the false representation on Dragons’ Den and his previous convictions could have equally damaging consequences.