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By John Donovan
26 August 2007

During the course of business dealings and many bouts of litigation with Shell over the years, I discovered that Shell management has no compunction about stealing ideas or information disclosed to them in strictest confidence.  I had to sue Shell in the UK High Court on four successive occasions after they misappropriated my companies’ intellectual property.

Another equally objectionable predatory practice of Shell is that if a small company putting a proposal to Shell has a relationship with a third party manufacturer or supplier, Shell has a track record of going behind the back of the small company to cut them out of the deal, so that they don’t earn a penny. Shell is that ruthless.

During the “discovery process” in my most recent case, we found that many other small companies trying to do business with Shell had also been subjected to unethical treatment from Shell managers. “Discovery” is the part of the pre-trial process in which the parties to the litigation are obliged under penalty of law to exchange all documents in their possession, custody or control, which are in any way relevant to the case. This applies to any document, which may contain information that would enable a party either to advance its own case, or damage the case of its opponent. 

When I went to the London offices of Shell’s lawyers, Kendall Freeman, to inspect Shell’s discovery documents in the most recent case, I was confronted by a huge number of documents in countless boxes. Many of the documents bore no possible relationship to my case against Shell. Fortunately I remembered the movie “Class Action”, a court room drama starring Gene Hackman, when lawyers acting for an automobile maker client buried incriminating evidence in a mountain of documents about a known fatal design flaw which cost people their lives in related auto accidents.

I had to travel to the offices of Kendall Freeman every day to wade through the Shell discovery, most of which had no relationship to my case against Shell. There were so many documents it would have cost a small fortune to copy and transport them. It was also preferable to view the originals, or first generation copies, rather than copies taken from sometimes-faded documents. 

Fortunately I have a good memory. This was a great help because all of the letters relating to an individual or an company were not together in one file, but interspersed over thousands of pages in a jigsaw of evidence spread across different boxes. Consequently, if I found something interesting, which potentially tied in with something seen earlier, perhaps even days previously, I had to search back through endless boxes to find what I was looking for. It was a horrendous task.

However, my efforts proved to be well worthwhile particularly in terms of what is known as “Similar Fact Evidence” i.e. evidence which shows a pattern of behaviour. 


I noticed that a Mr John Armstrong-Holmes had put a proposal forward to a Shell manager (AJL) for a gardening themed promotion called “Spring into Shell”. There had been correspondence and telephone discussions following the initial presentation. The idea was researched by Shell. Unbeknown to Armstrong-Holmes, Shell later adapted his idea and even used the garden plant supplier firm he had disclosed to Shell in confidence. AJL was the same manager who had stolen all of our ideas.


Senior King, a promotions agency retained by Shell, had put a considerable amount of confidential development work into a project in collaboration with an overseas supplier of specialist electronic technology, Schlumberger.  Soon after they disclosed the commercial relationship to Shell, a Shell manager (AJL), using an agency with which he had a special relationship, Option One, went behind the back of Senior King direct to Schlumberger. I found letters from Senior King who had written to Shell management complaining in the strongest terms about how AJL had cut them out of the deal. As Senior King stated in one letter, Shell had “hi-jacked” their supplier. Shell fired Senior King for complaining. 


Mike McMahon, a director of a company called Concept Systems, put forward proposals to Shell in connection with loyalty card schemes. He had formed an alliance with a company called Fortronic, part of the “De La Rue” group. Shell managers led by AJL hatched a plan to cut him out of the relationship and did just that, awarding a major contract directly to Fortronic. Concept Systems went bankrupt as a result of Shell’s predatory conduct.

The same Shell managers responsible for the Fortronic coup, conspired to rig a related tendering contract for a major project. Documents showed that 14 prospective suppliers were involved in the pitch. All were persuaded to sign confidentially agreements preventing them from approaching other oil companies. They were also asked to supply further information. This was done to give them the impression they were still in the running for the contract when in fact Shell had already been decided to eject them. It was all a deliberate deception to keep them out of the market in line with a prearranged unprincipled plan which unfortunately for Shell, AJL put into writing. I found the documentary evidence of the corrupt practices in the discovery documents. AJL awarded the contract to Option One, which had never been in the tendering process. A horse that did not run, won the race: a truly miraculous outcome.

Discovery documents in the form of the diaries of AJL provided evidence that he had a personal relationship with Option One. He went out with their Directors to the Theatre. He had nights out at restaurants. He had an offshore bank account.  He later admitted under oath during his cross examination in the witness box that he entertained Option One directors at his own home.

The documents also showed that AJL had passed on to Option One what Shell had learnt about developments in the electronics field. This included information supplied on a confidential basis by the supplier’s who had been falsely led to believe they were still acting within the tender process.  In other words, the tender companies had spent time and money and were held back from contacting Shell rivals after Shell, acting under false pretences deceived and cheated them. Worse than that, the confidential information they provided was secretly passed on to Option One.

I also discovered in the documentary evidence an email from AJL to his colleagues stating his willingness to engage in “illegal” activity despite the prospect that it could be discovered. The email he circulated to senior Shell managers contained the following comment: “My note of 25/10 expressed a personal and pragmatic view of how to handle the problem – it is in fact illegal and is certainly unofficial, and if we were discovered then we will enforce the official position…”

Shell senior management gave its full support to AJL despite all of the pledges of honesty, integrity and openness proclaimed in Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles, another fraud on the part of Shell management. The SGBP is a con-trick designed to fool the public and investors into believing Shell is a good company when in reality, it is just a greedy ruthless oil giant.

It was in the middle of my barristers cross examination of AJL about these matters that Shell put forward a proposal to settle my claim. Although announced as a “stalemate” compromise settlement, in fact Shell paid my legal costs. I also received a secret payment not even disclosed to the trial Judge.

I still retain all of the documentary evidence and associated witness statements.

Of course most small companies would never dare to take on a huge multinational in a David v Goliath legal battle. Shell lawyers are very aware of this and have no qualms about using intimidation in the hope of frightening off would be opponents. Again I have evidence of this bullying by Shell. In the course of my litigation against Shell, I even received a letter from lawyers acting for Shell threatening to make the litigation “drawn out and difficult”. The cold blooded nature of the threat could not be clearer. Shell intended to deliberately drain the funds of a financially weaker opponent.

These events took place several years ago. I had hoped that Shell might have changed but I now know from recent events that such predatory behaviour against small companies still persist, as will become apparent in the coming days. It should not be surprising as the same senior managers who gave their full support to AJL, for example Malcolm Brinded OBE, the man who gives a higher priority to oil and gas production than the lives of Shell employees, remain at the helm of Shell. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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