British Gas found guilty of harassment

When Lisa Ferguson changed her supplier, British Gas continued to send her bills. These were followed by letters threatening to cut off her supply, start legal proceedings and report her to credit reference agencies.

She wrote to the British Gas chairman and the watchdog Energywatch, but still the letters and bills continued. So she decided to turn the tables on British Gas and take them to court for unlawful harassment, claiming damages for distress and anxiety and financial loss.

It ended up in the Court of Appeal. She won and was awarded damages and costs. Here is a quote from the judgement:

‘It is one of the glories of this country that every now and then one of its citizens is prepared to take a stand against the big battalions of government or industry. Such a person is Lisa Ferguson, the claimant in this case. Because she funds the claim out of her personal resources, she does so at considerable risk: were she ultimately to lose she would probably have to pay British Gas’s considerable costs.’

‘What British Gas was threatening was undoubtedly serious. Mr Porter [British Gas’s QC] sought to downgrade it by saying that Ms Ferguson knew the claims and threats were unjustified. That is absurd: a victim of harassment will almost always know that it is unjustified. The Act is there to protect people against unjustified harassment. Indeed if the impugned conduct is justified it is unlikely to amount to harassment at all.’

‘Mr Porter also made the point that the correspondence was computer generated and so, for some reason which I do not really follow, Ms Ferguson should not have taken it as seriously as if it had come from an individual. But real people are responsible for programming and entering material into the computer. It is British Gas’s system which, at the very least, allowed the impugned conduct to happen.’

‘Moreover the threats and demands were to be read by a real person, not by a computer. A real person is likely to suffer real anxiety and distress if threatened in the way which Ms Ferguson was.’

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