The boss of the London’s largest plumbing company is taking legal action against US-based review website Yelp to find people who posted reviews that the company believes are libellous and damaging.
Charlie Mullins (pictured here with UK chancellor George Osborne), whose customers reportedly include celebrities including Keira Knightly and Sienna Miller, has instructed his lawyers to submit papers to the UK High Court after repeatedly asking Yelp to take the comments down.
"All we’re interested in is for businesses to receive the same protection from potentially damaging, unfair or libellous comment and reviews as the law affords them in all other areas of society, such as the press, radio and television," Mullins wrote today on his popular blog.Â
"But somehow the internet seems to have been left to develop a set of rules of its own, and this is what we are trying to stop."
Mullins, who prides himself on having professionalized the plumbing trade, said he wanted to stop people being able to post "with impunity material that is untrue", and called on websites to require proof that reviewers had actually been customers.
Mullins’ lawyers at the prestigious firm Mishcon de Reya will uses changes to the UK’s Defamation Act made last year to try and force Yelp to provide the details of the reviewers. The firm would then pursue them for defamation.
Mullins said Yelp removed five negative reviews of his company after he had complained, but has so far refused to erase another three, which criticise the company’s guarantees, its customer services department, and its billing practices. The reviews are in the "not recommended" section on Pimlico Plumbers.
"They are nothing but bullies who seem to believe they are above the law, and appear to take the attitude that because they operate in cyber-space they can pretty much get away with doing what they please," Mullins said in a statement.
Now a millionaire, Mullins left school at 15 to become a plumbing apprentice in south London. The company he founded in 1979 is London’s largest independent plumbing and service company, the firm says, with a workforce of around 200. In the last financial year turnover reached $34m (£20m).
He may be the world’s richest plumber, and is certainly the world’s most famous, having appeared on numerous television programmes including the popular British series "Secret Millionaire". He regularly speaks out on UK social policy and campaigns for apprenticeships and vocational education reform. His views have been sought by the UK’s Conservative Party, of which he is a vocal supporter.
Mullins will be particularly sensitive to negative reviews because he claims to have succeeded because of Pimlico’s reputation for reliability and professionalism.Â
"What I did with Pimlico was look at all the bad things people think about the plumbing industry: the ripping off, looking scruffy, dirty old van, making out that you can’t get the part, not finishing the job, never turning up on time… if you just do the opposite to all the bad things you can’t fail," he said in a 2012 interview.