Plumber whose wife had a 10-year affair faces jail for pursuing his grievances online.
A plumber who used the internet to highlight his wife’s affair with a director of one of the world’s largest financial companies will appear in court on harassment charges. Lawyers believe the case could help define the limits of free expression on the internet.
Ian Puddick, 41, from east London, was incensed after learning that his wife had conducted a 10-year relationship with her boss, a director of Guy Carpenter, a reinsurance company that advises clients on risk management.
Puddick set up a series of websites, a Twitter account and a blog to draw attention to the affair, alleging that the director, who he named, was pursuing an affair with his wife on the company’s time and expenses – a claim rejected by Guy Carpenter. The company maintains Puddick’s actions forced the director to leave his position due to stress.
Puddick’s legal team are expected to use the three-day hearing at Westminster magistrates court to examine the actions of the City of London police, which dispatched its serious crime unit to raid his home and office in search of evidence.
Puddick’s legal team is seeking to summon a number of Guy Carpenter’s executives to appear at his trial, a move that promises unwanted publicity for a company that likes to keep a relatively low profile. Internal Guy Carpenter emails obtained by Puddick’s legal team and seen by the Observer show that the firm employed a subsidiary – Kroll, a global private investigation agency used by many blue chip companies – in its quest to establish that Puddick was waging a harassment campaign.
Kroll briefed Guy Carpenter executives that the police had “offered significant assistance” in dealing with Puddick, whom it believed might be “dangerously unstable”. One Kroll director emailed several Guy Carpenter executives on 23 July 2009, following a meeting with City police. “They … warn that the penalties for harassment are not very severe, unless you reoffend, and that the prosecution will be out of our control once the police and the Criminal Prosecution Service agree there is a case to answer. We should remember Puddick may relish the prospect of a day in court.”
The email continues: “The civil route has the advantage of us being able to cease the prosecution at any stage, and tougher penalties. However, if the police take this on we can avoid being seen to have any role in prosecuting Puddick, which also has advantages. One way to combine the two may be to talk to Puddick post arrest, and warn him of our options in the civil courts to stop him reoffending.”
The case is likely to be watched closely by legal and media experts as the battle to regulate what is disseminated over the internet is waged in the courts. Recent cases involving new media and super-injunctions have also raised questions on whether regulating the net inhibits freedom of speech.
Michael Wolkind QC, representing Puddick, said his client intended to defend his actions. “This case is about Mr Puddick’s right to express his feelings about another person’s immorality. Ian Puddick dared to speak out about his wife’s affair and it has cost the public £1m for the extraordinary investigation carried out by an unusually enthusiastic police alongside an elite security firm.”
Puddick’s legal team say his home has been burgled and files were stolen as well as some valuables. However, following a police investigation, there is nothing to suggest that Guy Carpenter or Kroll were involved in any illegal activity.
Puddick is now reconciled with his wife.
• This article was amended on 12 June 2011
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