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Breaking the silence

I’ve been a little absent from social media for several weeks and now is the right time to share why. I received a letter at my home address on July 26th 2022 that was shoved through my letterbox with a resounding thump, with my name, business name and address in large font printed to a sheet of paper which had been stuck to the front. This letter was from a person who you’ll either know straight away, or you’ll be lucky that you’ve never encountered him before. For simplicity through this I’ll refer to him as D. The letter itself was a Cease and Desist template from the Which? website which anyone can download and use if they wish to send a letter before action if they have some grievance with another party for whatever reason. Now this letter wasn’t entirely unexpected as I had been aware for several months that D had been making multiple wildly inflammatory and libellous statements on twitter, closed groups on Facebook and within private messages to who knows how many individuals, not to mention a tweet he put out a little over a week before the letter landed

Some of the more outlandish ones we heard from people he had contacted was how he was looking at getting a 100k payout, was going to destroy 7 businesses, or how MTV had been in touch wanting exclusive rights to his story. I was not alone in this, as his statements and accusations were not aimed at me directly, but the directory I am one of 6 admin for. 4 admin received these letters within the same week, some on the same day and others days later. All 4 admin are female led businesses (one has a male partner who does the social media side) So this letter landed. Two pages of template with what was supposed to be the criteria filled in and some ludicrous demands, and 22 pages of printed sheets of content that was almost entirely unrelated to me. The only relevant, and I use that word loosely, parts pertaining to me were a screenshot of a reply to a tweet I’d made, praising another business from which I had purchased return address labels from previously, and a screenshot of a Twitter DM conversation between this man and myself; the online version of a cold call where he was trying to gauge my interest (of which I had none) in a regional badge design.

A letter before action template letter from Aqua Design Group
Page one of the letter

Second page of a letter before action from Aqua Design Group
Page 2 of the letter

Scanned copy of page 10 of the letter received showing two screenshots. One of a redacted tweet by Twysted Roots praising another account on their excellent service and the other is a twitter direct message conversation around a "proudly made in Cornwall" digital badge design
The "evidence"

It's important to note from the above conversation made via Twitter direct message, that I was approached with this design, I did not request it or show any previous interest in it. I was polite in my exchange but I sell online; where I reside is of little importance, to me at least. This is how D operates to generate awareness in the hope of people taking up on his offer of a free digital design, firstly to help advertise his services and secondly with the possibilty that it will lead to a sale of physical marketing items. It's important to note because of his claims that another party 'stole' his image by searching for it on Google; there is no need when he gives this design freely via email. The rest of the “evidence” included multiple screenshots of stickers, multiple private social media conversations with a lot of different people who were not me, obviously one private twitter direct message with me, emails complete with addresses showing with people I don’t even know, one email conversation with a person I do know, a screenshot of two “troll accounts” and a description with a crime reference number attached. I won’t provide screenshots of any of the other “evidence” for the simple reason it contains a lot of information about other people that I shouldn’t have been sent, let alone put in in the public domain. Someone clearly missed the GDPR memo. The letter itself is absolute nonsense. The accusations , of which there were two, are for “aiding in the use of Made in Manchester badge design without consent” and “aiding in the use of Made in Manchester badge design in the creation of stickers for packaging without the consent of [D] and [Business name which D operates as]. Now to explain *this* part briefly for some context… yes I do know what it’s about but it has nothing to do with me. As aforementioned, I’m one of 6 admin for My Helpful Hints Small Business Directory or MHHSBD for short. In January 2022, one of the directory members had been given a Made in Manchester badge design from D, who then used another supplier, also a directory member to provide stickers using this design. It’s not my story so I won’t ponder the implications of not stipulating restrictions on use beforehand but the short version was D contacted both businesses January 26th 2022 first stating it should be made clear to their supplier the badge was designed by him, then saying marketing was exclusively through him and only the digital badge was free. The business apologized, not realizing it was exclusive and asked about getting stickers made from D but instead of moving forward, this was met with multiple short separate statements from D. Screenshot below was from page 16 of the "evidence" received; I have blanked out any identifying information.

Conversation between D and another business about the use of artwork
Page 16 of the "evidence" received with identifying information blanked out

The conversation was going nowhere , an apology had been made, the £2.70 stickers were destroyed and D was subsequently blocked. When D contacted the supplier that same day, his initial message was in a very different tone, stating he knew they had produced stickers for another business, sadly all materials were to be exclusively through him and if anyone else contacted them, he’d appreciate if they were sent his way and the reply was no problem, of course. 4th February, he contacted the supplier again, asking for a postal address as he wished to send some information through the post following on from the last message but would not say what or why or explain further. Supplier declined and subsequently blocked. Both businesses were aware of each others conversation with D, as were admin at this point. This is all part of the “evidence” I was sent which was actually useful to provide some context and timelines otherwise I’d still be sitting scratching my head wondering why the hell this letter landed on my doorstep. And now to the demands to redress this crime of the century that I didn’t commit. £1000, payment to be made in full Copies of communications with any directory members with regards to [Business name D operates under] contacting [directory member] and [sticker maker] about the Made in Manchester badge design An apology to [Business name D operates under] for aiding in the use of design work without written consent which I was to post across my social media platforms and pin for a minimum of 6 months No further negative comments about [D / business name D goes under] being said across social media by any directory member I did of course seek legal advice because it was implied that this letter had written on advice from a law firm, and one that D had tagged in Twitter posts during a weekly networking hour from May 31st 2022 to July 26th 2022 thanking them for their legal support.

I had my doubts that this was done under any legal advisement however for me it was the final straw in a long line of red flag behavior that I’d found myself the subject of from D, his personal vendetta against MHHSBD and the creator and host Darren being just part of it. I wanted to double check it was ok to ignore it as is advised when you have someone stalking you online and keeps making repeated unwanted contact. On that note I also contacted the police and made an official report of harassment, stalking and intimidation. It is now on record, crime number CRI/06JJ/0017113/22. Legally speaking, the letter did not meet the criteria in any way to be a cease and desist and there was a great deal of confusion as to why I was sent it. I was advised I could reply or ignore so I chose the latter. As stated, the letter landed on the 26th July. I posted in a closed networking group on Facebook on July 28th to query their stance as an announcement had been made just a few weeks prior to this, that under no circumstances were they or their sponsors to be named or brought into any business disputes. I had responded to that particular post with my thoughts at the time [screenshot below] but it has since been removed, presumably in the spirit of keeping the group positive.

I'll say it now; there is such a thing as toxic positivity and it happens when uncomfortable situations and feelings are dismissed, ignored and not addressed as existing.

The letter named sponsors, the creator, and several associated hashtags. I was asked by the Facebook group admin to email over details, which I did. While my post was up, I was contacted by several women in that group who had all guessed or suspected who was harassing me. Some posted in reply to the post but most contacted me privately and I was overwhelmed at what I was being told. Behaviour from D consisting of constant phone calls resulting in having to block his number, suggestive comments, online stalking, inappropriate remarks making them feel uncomfortable, asking about their relationship status and so on. They ended up avoiding groups or networking hours because of him. His unwanted attentions are apparently widely known about in networking circles. My own background checks on this proved this information to be correct, and I have seen enough to have a detailed picture, much of it made my skin crawl. I will not comment on what I found publicly but I will say it was all information I found easily looking on Twitter. The fact that someone would use their business account to conduct themselves in this way is telling in itself. I blocked D in December last year after several months of him constantly undermining and bad mouthing the directory. I personally believe he was doing it through jealousy; Darren had created this community of all different kinds of small businesses and for a lot of people, it changed the way we used Twitter. I’m fairly sporadic when it comes to posting online and with caring responsibilities, I can’t always commit to networking hours. I often don’t have the energy for them either but this was a great alternative. We started hearing rumours about how MHHSBD was being run, how members were being told what hashtags they could or couldn’t use, that kind of thing. We did laugh it off to start with because that’s the opposite of what it’s about and accounts are as autonomous as they want to be; join in, tweet or use whatever # they want. It was becoming tiresome though, trying to dispel this negativity and false information being flung around. It affected members and non members alike who heard these rumours and a lot of time was starting to be spent in management and damage control, allaying any fears about what people had heard. We know it affected some people’s decision to join up.

In one sense it was so ridiculous it was almost funny because it was so childish but we concluded if we just carried on doing what we do and ignored it, eventually they’d get bored, seeing it was going nowhere. This did not happen. D contacted Darren on November 26th 2021 [screenshots below] claiming that 5 businesses belonging to two networks had contacted them, allegedly claiming they were troubled by directory “policy of networking hashtags and members” . D later claimed it was 20 people who had messaged. It was further claimed D had spoken with @MarketMe about this and if things didn’t change, previous networking awards would be withdrawn and they would both (D and @MarketMe) speak with [name redacted].

2nd December 2021 a tweet was put out from the @SmartSocialUK account

3rd December 2021 a tweet was put out from the @MarketMe account

Screenshot of a tweet from an account on Twitter with a sesame street character gif
Screenshot of a tweet

“Want to get involved with something that’s better than @MHHSBD @CelebsForBiz @elevenseshour_? Look no further than one of the hardest working competitions on Twitter @ADG_IQ #QueenOf #KingOf #MonarchOf day every Thursday 9am – 9pm theroyalconnection . co . uk” with a Sesame Street gif. It was deleted shortly after. It may be of interest to note D was once a host of Elevenses Hour, I believe until sometime early 2020. 3rd December 2021 Darren responded in humourous way, mirroring the tweet without the use of account names and using the same gif in an “I see what you did there” to show it hadn’t gone unnoticed.

3rd December 2021 @MarketMe replied to a tweet, claiming they were simply an SBS winner and nothing to do with D

5th December 2021 @TwystedRoots, (me!) was chosen as a @SmartSocialUK winner despite not having participated since being chosen the first time in 2018. Queried this with D who at the time ran this account, and was told it was random now. [screenshot]

Screenshot of a conversation between two people. Person 1: Congratulations on your #SmartSocial win. I'll email your badge tomorrow (smile emoji) Person 2: Hi [blanked name] - think there's been some mistake as I've already won that [partial twitter page link] Person 1: You've won again (smile emoji) Person 2: How? I didn't enter - I'm never awake in the mornings (amused face emoji) Person 1: @marketme shortlists a few each week and then we make the decider (smile emoji) It's a non entry competition now. Purely for supporting businesses and being social media savvy (smile emoji)
Screenshot 5th December 2021 re Smart Social

7th December 2021 Darren received a direct message on Twitter from @MarketMe threatening legal action

A threatening message puportedly from the owner of market me on Twitter
Screenshot of a direct message on Twitter

On 7th December 2021 D made a particularly accusatory Facebook post in his closed group [screenshot] which backfired spectacularly when 99% of responses disagreed, D shut off comments then later deleted the post. I replied to this (have reply on file) hoping hearing it from another side might make D realise he had it wrong, but I was naïve. He was all too happy and willing to listen to anyone who would back up his own viewpoint.

Text reads "It's come to my attention that #MHHSBD have been telling its members to not use or get involved in certain networks on Twitter. There was also mentions of bullying behaviour to keep everyone in line within their groups. Since this issue was raised I contacted My Helpful Hints to discuss the matter. He's denied everything and asked to no longer be associated with the competition. To clairfy a point, i was contacted indpendently by at least one #QueenOf winner and verified by talking to other parties involved. Bullying of any kind will not be tolerated within the network and after the other post I've had it with being the social media pin cushion for those that think they can get away with it
Screenshot of a post by D in a closed Facebook group

8th December 2021 Darren received another direct message from @MarketMe from the owner, stating his account had nothing to do with the previous message and that it was 100% D who had been managing both accounts on Twitter for over two years, tweeting out self promo and self congratulatory tweets.

Darren responded, expressing concern over account access and who would be reading further messages. Reassurance was given that passwords had been changed for both @MarketMe and @SmartSocialUK, apologising for not realising what was going on and confirming the only posts they themselves put out would be articles released from the @MarketMe website. The rest, including DM’s sent as well as tweets would have been by D.

It was decided that it was fair to let D explain his side once he realised he no longer had account access. After running the accounts for at least two years, it’s fair to assume a person would ask why the passwords had been changed and access revoked. The expectation was this would happen, then a public apology tweet would be made for fraudulent representation of the company as well as for the messages sent. It was never acknowledged by D, and he lost control of both @MarketMe and @SmartSocialUK accounts 8th December 2021 12th December 2021 I contacted D and requested to be removed from his website and networking circles due to his unprofessional behaviour that I had no wish to have any association with [screenshot]. No reply was received but I was removed without fanfare.

Names redacted. Text reads Hi. I light of what happened yesterday I'd like to respectfully request to be removed from your Queen of and Smart social network. Your personal vendettas against other businesses are entirely unprofessional and I have no desire to be involved with them. Thank you for your previous support and know this was not a decision I came to lightly. Wishing you all the best moving forward. Clair
Screenshot of a Twitter direct message

Later that same day, some of my business posts were shared by D on Facebook. This struck me as odd, as if they were carrying on with the public persona of supportiveness which did not sit right given what they were continuing to do in the background. Subsequently I unfollowed and blocked all his known aliases on all social media platforms I was on. I did not want any involvement with this person and it was a huge relief. 17th December 2021 I was followed and retweeted by a recently resurfaced Twitter account [screenshot] and it was immediately obvious it was D using yet another account, presumably because he’d just lost two established ones to tweet his self promo from.

A tweet by Terry Doglas giving a top dog biz shout out to Twysted Roots
Screenshot of a tweet by @TopDogBusiness

I blocked it straight away. It was a known pattern for him; conversations with himself from different accounts to pretend it was separate people, or tweeting as if it was not him. I can only surmise reasons why someone would feel the need to set up multiple accounts, pretending to be different people; I’m not a psychologist. There are many instances of this through D’s time on Twitter.

Tweet screenshot. Text reads Terry Doglas @TopDogBusiness 3m Good afternoon everyone smiley face emoji. Reply by D Hope you're having a good day Terry? smiley face emoji #TopDogBiz 13?01 27/01/2022
Screenshot of a twitter conversation of the same person talking to himself from two different accounts
Tweet with name and profile pic blanked out reads Good afternoon Terry @TopDogBusiness #TopDogBiz
Screenshot of a tweet

February 2022 this account was deactivated by D which was odd as the networking hour associated with it continued, only under his main account. A suspicious person might ponder reasons why someone would delete an account if they still intended carrying on with the networking hour but of course we already had people messaging us with screenshots they had received from that now deleted account. Who knows what else was sent from there that we weren’t aware of. 24th June 2022 I received email notification of a google review left on my business page. It was 5 star review from D with the comment “A veritable forest of creativity. Be it for a piece of statement decor for the home or for a gift for a loved one. It's well worthwile seeing what Twysted Roots can create for you.” I replied and also reported it to google as a false review, which it was. This person has never purchased from me. This person has been blocked on every avenue possible and has blocked me in return but left a google review for my business? It is still up for anyone who cares to look I posted about it on my personal Facebook profile as it really unsettled me. I’ve had to deal with a stalker in the past and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The only saving grace from it was I’ve learned to keep receipts and gather evidence. Several people commented, some of them with their own experiences with him advising to avoid, others who were unaware of his behaviour until reading the post advised police or at least having a word with the networking group he's so fond of mentioning. Shame I have on more than one occasion but he still remains as part of it.

So I know I don't post on here often now and I usually keep biz stuff separate but this was kind of a trigger this morning. I've had dealings with being hounded and stalked on social media before and as a result, it took me a long time to feel confident about being more open as 'me' and not just business only kind of thing.  Biz online is a lot like biz in a physical place. You make friendships, you meet new people, you chat about your day; the good stuff and not so good, and it's become what feels like a safe space. At least it was until a while back.  Like anywhere, you can end up meeting some real ... challenging people. Ones that seem harmless on the surface but soon reveal themselves to be what they really are underneath - maniuplative, gaslighting, petty and vindictive.  This person and all the known aliases he uses was blocked my myself several months ago after displaying some bizarre behaviour towards others. He's aware he was blocked and he knows exactly why because I told him and also made it clear I no longer wanted to be associated with him.  Over a week later after blocking him, he restarted another Twitter account and started following me from that. It was immediately obvious who it was so that got blocked too. Not entirely sure what his issue is, neither do I care, but rather than stop to think, hey maybe I'm out of line here, he escalated it and has been making threats, not directly to me I might add, but to other small business friends, including the online directory I'm one of the admin for. Legal threats, saying he's going to destroy multiple businesses, he has legal and police contacts helping him, media and TV stations have been in touch wanting rights to his story, harrassing people wanting to find out home addresses of the people he's reportedly taking to court for 100K for ruining his business and badmouthing him. I kid you not. It has been relentless. Walter Mitty has nothing on this guy. And yes I have many many screenshots of it all.  So this has been ongoing since at least the start of this year. And it's not the first time by a long shot either as he has a history of this with various other businesses. I've not spoken about it before because honestly I've been hoping it would just fizzle out but then woke up to a new review this morning and it was a bit of a final straw moment.  Ah well at least it wasn't any greater involvement than a mere business acquaintance!
Screenshot from a Facebook post

Then the letter landed a month later and that’s us come full circle. So now you know why I’ve been quiet on social media.

I would advise anyone who has been made to feel uncomfortable, harassed or intimidated by anyone online or otherwise to not do what I did and wait. Report it when it happens. Seek support, which thankfully I had. If it wasn’t for the other admin and a lot of business friends who have either been targeted themselves or have friends who were, I probably would have been another in a long line of women feeling too scared or too isolated to speak out. Hell one woman I know did speak out and her life was still made a living hell. Don’t get me wrong, this makes me sick to my stomach and I’ll probably vanish off social media for a wee while again but not saying anything would have been so much worse. I just hope if you’ve also been affected then you’ll feel comfortable enough coming forward too. Peace out… and thanks for reading. Update 13 April 2023 On the 6th of April 2023 following suspension and subsequent investigation into claims of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, D was asked to step away from the online networking community he had been part of as a winner "with immediate effect" and his win was withdrawn. He is no longer listed on the winners website but to date still has his win displayed on his social media profiles and websites despite being instructed to remove all mentions of it from profiles and websites.


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