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Is Shell the world’s biggest company due to merit or malevolence?

(Modified 23 April 2018: Relevant Shell executives name changed to initials only “AJL”)

By John Donovan

Except for the headline, senior officials of Royal Dutch Shell Plc including barrister Richard Wiseman, have had advance sight of the article below thereby giving Shell an opportunity to take issue with the veracity of the content, supply comment for publication with the article on an unedited basis, or seek an injunction to prevent publication. No such action has been taken.

Is Shell the world’s biggest company due to merit or malevolence?

The Sunday Times article “Two men and a website mount vendetta against an oil giant” provides some background history of the unusual relationship that my father, Alfred Donovan and me, have had over the years with the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, which according to Fortune magazine, is the largest company in the world.

Few can be better placed to answer the question of whether Shell achieved this distinction by being a company of high ethical standing in line with the “Royal” prefix and Shell’s much proclaimed business principles, or climbed to the top by being the most ruthless and malevolent multinational on the planet.

It a perfectly legitimate question bearing in mind the numerous controversies surrounding Shell including its atrocious track record of environmental misdeeds and reckless disregard for employee safety, all detailed in Wikipedia articles.

Part of the answer comes from a report – Shell’s Big Dirty Secret– issued on 28 June 2009 by green organizations, including Friends of the Earth. It revealed that Shell executives continued to approve gas flaring in Nigeria for financial reasons, despite knowing of the consequential serious environmental and health dangers. It also exposed  Shell’s machinations in respect of climate change and damaging emissions, concluding that Shell is the world’s dirtiest oil company.

From our unique perspective, having brought multiple High Court actions against Shell, that conclusion is correct in more than one sense.  This leads me to pose another question. Is Shell the closest real life corporate embodiment of the villainous fictional organizations SMERSH and SPECTRE – as portrayed in the James Bond spy novels?

Although this might seem a far-fetched notion, if you invest a few minutes of your time, you may be persuaded that it is not a huge stretch into the realms of fantasy, bearing in mind evidence of sinister machinations by Shell, its lawyers and agents in various guises, including security forces, armed mercenaries, Nigerian militants (paid by Shell), and undercover activity, including the use of a serving secret service agent.

Peter Voser, the new Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell Plc might be interested in what I have to say about the events which led to the creation of the website

The timing is apt given that July 2009 is the 10th anniversary of our last High Court action against Shell and also bearing in mind the current news stories about alleged dirty tricks involving sleazy private investigators used to obtain information by illegal means. The reference to such skulduggery will become clear.

The “SMART” loyalty card case was the fourth High Court action we had brought against Shell for stealing intellectual property. Shell had already settled the first three actions out of court. The same dishonest Shell manager, *AJL, was at the heart of all four actions. Remarkably, he was able to claim support for his corrupt practices from the highest levels of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, including Mark Moody-Stuart and Malcolm Brinded, the Shell boss we have described as having a big brain, but no scruples. We note that litigation against Shell for theft of IT property continues to this day. We have evidence that the policy of stealing ideas presented to Shell in confidence has the blessing of Brinded.

The SMART litigation made it all the way to trial at the Royal Court of Justice in London. Unfortunately the proceedings were mired by Shell dirty tricks, robbing us of the fair trial on which we had staked everything we owned, including two houses.  Shell Legal Director Richard Wiseman had persuaded the legal aid board to withdraw funding for the case.  The grounds put forward by Wiseman were based on a reasonable assumption by him, but happened to be untrue. The SMART trial date arrived before a judicial review hearing could be held on the legal aid board decision.

Mr Wiseman had already admitted bending professional rules on an earlier settlement matter. He also admitted using an undercover agent, Christopher Phillips, caught red-handed during his clandestine mission at our offices. I asked Wiseman if the Shell agent Phillips had engaged in surveillance or phone tapping activities directed against us.  Wiseman ducked the question. Richard Wiseman is now the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

Phillips was not the only person using a fake cover story. An American traveled to the UK to interview me (and our key witnesses), falsely claiming that he was a journalist representing The European newspaper. Another investigator falsely claimed to be working for the Daily Express.

I also received a sinister phone call, in which detailed information about Shell’s future plans for fighting the SMART case was given to me, presumably to gain credibility for the “insider” making the call, who later issued threats against me, my family and our witnesses.

It was evident from Shell’s dramatic response when the insider information was passed on to them, that the leaked information was correct in every particular. In addition to an investigation by the Police and British Telecoms (which traced the call to a London location), Shell carried out its own internal investigation. This was confirmed in letters dated 11 August and 26 October 1998 received from the London law firm DJ Freeman (now known as Kendall Freeman) acting for Shell.

The police also investigated a series of burglaries carried out at my home, the home of our key witness and at my solicitors’ home. No valuables were stolen. Documents related to the trial were examined and tampered with, including a document which Colin Joseph, the senior partner of DJ Freeman, had vowed to obtain even after an application to the courts for sight of the document had been turned down on the grounds that it was part of privileged correspondence.

While on the one hand categorically denying any knowledge of undercover activity, other than undertaken by “Christopher Phillips”, Joseph revealed in a letter dated 3 July 1998 that Phillips was not the only person involved in making enquiries on Shell’s behalf.  The revelation that Phillips was but one of an undisclosed number of people making enquiries was intimidating and no doubt meant to be so.  Wiseman and Joseph were unwilling to disclose how many people were involved in making enquiries about us, or what they were doing on Shell’s behalf.

Colin Joseph asked me to substantiate my claim in a letter published by Marketing Week magazine that we had been bombarded by threats. I supplied a letter listing the threats.

One of the listed threats came in a letter from Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman and Managing Director of The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company, p.l.c. A sentence in his letter stated: “It is not our policy to evaluate disputes or our response to them by taking advantage of the status, financial or otherwise, of the party making the claim”. This was of course at total variance with the admitted undercover actions undertaken by Shell to do exactly that – evaluate our financial status and no doubt seek any dirt that could be used against us.

A few days after the trial commenced Shell offered a compromise settlement that we declined. Shell made a further settlement proposal just before the climax of AJL’s cross-examination under oath. Shell paid all my legal costs and I received a totally inadequate secret payment. I will explain in a follow-up article why I accepted. The terms of what was described as a peace treaty were so secret, that they were not disclosed, even to the Judge (as Richard Wiseman has recently confirmed).

Sometime after the trial, The Sunday Times newspaper revealed, in a front-page story, Shell’s close association with a private spy firm Hakluyt & Company which had engaged at the behest of Shell, in exactly the type of sinister operations which had been directed at us. Shell and the spy firm shared key common directors and shareholders. This shocking highly material information  about Hakluyt, said to have the biggest collection of MI6-trained intelligence officers outside of MI6 itself, revealed that the spy firm undertook covert operations on behalf of Shell in Nigeria and other Countries. Their agents used fake identities and operated on a similar modus operandi to the agents we encountered.

My best guess, based on the categorical denial by Wiseman and Joseph of any connection with the direct intimidation and  burglaries, is that there were two Shell-sponsored dirt-digging operations in progress. One led by Wiseman and Joseph involving so called enquiry agents (including “Christopher Phillips), and another even more sinister operation authorized at a higher level in Shell, probably carried out by Hakluyt, in which titled Shell Transport senior directors – Sir William Purves and Sir Peter Holmes (now deceased) – were directors and major shareholders and the ultimate spymasters.


We found out from Shell discovery documents that AJL was prepared to engage in illegal acts on behalf of Shell. It was evident from his diary that he was a disgruntled employee who recorded his intent to set up a personal business while at Shell and exit the company at the age of 35, presumably on the basis of building up sufficient funds in the meantime. He had an offshore bank account into which funds were paid. AJL also had a close relationship with an agency – Option One – to which all of our confidential ideas were funneled. They even miraculously won a major contract in a tendering process in which they did not participate. This was akin to a horse winning a race in which it did not run. A senior Shell manager, Frank Leggatt admitted under cross-examination that the actions of AJL in respect of the SMART tender had not been “proper”. This of course was a huge understatement. Members of the general public reading the evidence would find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that AJL was a ruthlessly ambitious, disloyal and greedy individual with no scruples.


Shell made settlement offers at the prompting of the trial Judge, Mr Justice Laddie. The first offer came in a letter dated 25 June 1999.

We very reluctantly accepted an improved compromise settlement offer made just before the climax of the cross-examination of AJL. Shell paid all of my legal costs and I received a secret payment. We would not have agreed to an out of court settlement at all, except for our assessment that the Judge was blatantly biased in favor of Shell and had allowed the lawyers representing Shell to openly engage in deception and attempted entrapment during my cross-examination.

When my key witness stated in his cross-examination that during a recent burglary at his home, Shell related documents had been tampered with and that this had also happened during burglaries carried out at the homes of other witnesses giving evidence at the trial, the Judge expressed not the slightest interest. The blatant degree of bias against us was obvious from the “Judges Comments“. Mr Justice Laddie read out a brief letter from me published by Marketing Week magazine which contained the following paragraph:

“During the current litigation, Shell has employed undercover investigators who have used outright deception in the course of their activities. I have a letter from Shell’s legal director, Richard Wiseman, admitting Shell’s associations with the covert activities (copy available on request.)”

The article had been supplied to the court at the outset of the trial, yet at no time during the trial, including when the key witness raised his concern over the burglaries, did the Judge ask any questions about the undercover activity.

So why was the Judge biased? It may have been due to undeclared conflicts of interest.

After the first settlement offer from Shell was rejected, the Judge was handed correspondence initiated by Judy Moody-Stuart, the wife of the then Royal Dutch Shell Group Chairman, Mark Moody-Stuart. She had sent a hand-written letter to my father  who was the subject of a Shell counterclaim in the same action. Sight of the letter may have brought about a realization by the Judge of a conflict of interest because of a commercial connection with the Intellectual Property barrister Tom Moody-Stuart, the son of the Shell Group Chairman. We wrote to Mr Justice Laddie sometime after the trial asking him about this connection. The Judge declined to enter into correspondence.

We subsequently wrote a letter to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, seeking an inquiry into the trial.

In a blaze of controversy, Mr Justice Laddie later became the first Judge in decades to resign. Hugh Laddie QC claimed that being a Judge bored him. We discovered another even more potentially serious conflict of interest. Another IP lawyer, Tony Willoughby, a friend of Laddie’s for over 35 years, was the founder of an IP consultancy, which had Shell as a client.  The retired Judge joined the same consultancy and at one point became involved with Shell Legal Director Richard Wiseman in a commercial project. Wiseman had attended almost every day of the SMART trial and was aware of the underhand tactics used in court against us, presumably with his blessing?

It may have been the case that conflict of interest issues dawned on the Judge during the course of the trial. He openly expressed his determination not to abort what he described as a “dreadful” trial. He knew our finances had been stretched to breaking point to bring the case to court.  Perhaps on reflection, he had misgivings over what had happened. We will never know the truth because tragically Professor Sir Hugh Laddie QC passed away in December 2008. It was plain from the remarkable number of tributes paid to him from around the world that he was an exceptional man, widely respected and loved by his family, friends and colleagues.

The “Peace Treaty” settlement with Shell lasted for only two years. Richard Wiseman gave way to temptation to act in breach, offering information to a third party company calculated to damage my reputation. I notified Malcolm Brinded that Shell had repudiated the treaty and the rest, including a host of damaging leaks and multibillion dollar losses to Shell, is history.

As indicated, an article about the SMART trial covering an ambush, outright deception and attempted entrapment by Shell lawyers will follow.

Related Articles

Shell’s botched attempt to seize its own Internet domain name

“HUGE” number of Royal Dutch Shell Executives being culled

Shell Ethics Chief claims he is subject of ‘provocative hateful’ campaign

Shell’s Sinister Relationship with Nigerian Militants

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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