Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

Donovan Libel Actions Against Shell


Marketing Week: Shell faces libel threat from Don: 31 March 1994

Sales Promotion agency Don Marketing is threatening to sue Shell UK for libel while at the same time circulating the results of a poll it claims to have carried out among Shell retailers.

The two companies are due to meet in court over Don’s accusation that Shell used its ideas in a series of promotions without permission or payment.

Don has sent a letter to Shell from solicitors acting for Don claiming a press release the company issued two weeks ago was defamatory and untrue (MW March 24) and is demanding a retraction.

Among issues covered in the press release was Shell’s application to the court for security for its costs in the event of Don losing the case, to ensure Don will pay Shell’s legal expenses.

But Don also says Shell’s press release amounted to an “unfounded personal attack” on Alfred Donovan, the father of John Donovan the managing director of Don Marketing, who runs the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group (SCCPG) even though “Shell is aware that Mr Donovan is a 78- year-old ex-regular army, war disabled pensioner”.

A spokesman for Shell says the company has no plans to retract the press statement.


Promotions & Incentives: Shell promotions dispute intensifies: April 1995

The legal dispute between Shell and Don Marketing over the origin of two promotions has become a public feud, with both sides adopting hardline positions.

Don Marketing’s managing director John Donovan has given Shell a seven-day ultimatum to retract a statement it issued last month to the business press· on the affair – or face a libel writ. “It’s not libellous. Anything else he does is up to him,” says a defiant Shell spokesman.

Donovan and his father Alfred have recently founded the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group, which is polling 1,000 Shell retailers to discover their views on the company. As a result a TV news show is now investigating the whole affair.

The Advertising Standards Authority is investigating a complaint levelled by the SCCPG alleging that Shell’s Make Money promotion was flawed because players could see winning tickets through the envelopes, or reseal envelopes with no trace.

“Shell would not run a promotion if it felt it was insecure for its retailers,” says a spokesman. Shell has applied to the High Court for security for costs. This hearing will occur on April 13, with the timing of further legal action dependant on the result.

If Shell is successful, Don Marketing will not be able to proceed with the case unless it can prove it could meet Shell’s legal costs if it lost. Shell is asking for £62,000.

Donovan slapped a writ on Shell for £350,000 at the end of last year over Shell’s Now Showing promotion, and another a year ago over a Nintendo promotion. Donovan alleges the original ideas came from Don Marketing, and that Shell then used them without authority or payment, which Shell denies.




STOP PRESS Column: Don Marketing founder Alfred Donovan has issued a libel writ against Shell UK. The writ claims that a Shell statement alleged an “attempt had been made to coerce Shell into settling false claims”.


Marketing Week: Shell faces libel action as Don’s founder issues writ:

21 April 1995

Alfred Donovan, a founder of sales promotion company Don Marketing and the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group, has issued a writ against Shell UK claiming damages for libel.

This latest twist in the long-running legal wrangle between Don Marketing and Shell comes as the two companies prepare to meet in court over Don’s accusation that Shell used the agency’s ideas in a series of promotions without permission or payment (MW February 24 and March 31).

Among issues covered in the press release at the heart of this latest dispute was Shell’s application to the court for Don Marketing to provide £62,000 security for its costs in the event of Don losing the case. This was to ensure Don will pay Shell’s legal expenses.

The court ruled that Don should provide £10,000 as security to the end of the part of the legal process known as the “discovery stage”.

But Don also says that Shell’s press release amounted to an “unfounded personal attack” on Alfred Donovan, the father of John Donovan who is managing director of Don Marketing.

Shell says it stands by its press release, while Don promises to stage a demonstration at Shell’s AGM next month.


Donovan issues Shell libel writ: Promotions & Incentive Magazine May 1995

Don Marketing founder, Alfred Donovan has issued a High Court writ for libel against Shell UK after it failed to retract a press statement of March 17 of this year (P&I April ’95).

A spokesperson for Shell said, “Shell intends to see matters through in court.”

Don Marketing’s separate legal action over Shell’s Now Showing and Nintendo promotions can now proceed after a Royal Courts of Justice judge ruled that £10,000 would provide adequate security against costs for the discovery stage of the case.


FORECOURT NEWS: Briefly Column: April 1995

Don Marketing, the sales promotion agency engaged in a dispute with Shell over alleged stolen ideas, has issued a writ for libel against Shell following the company’s statement relating to the affair and to Don’s Shell survey. Shell has said it stands by its statement and will contest the action. Forecourt News May 1995


FORECOURT TRADER: Shell speaks out over Don: Forecourt Trader April 1995

Shell has broken its vow of silence and issued a strongly-worded statement to defend itself against what it sees as “the growing number of untrue and often offensive allegations being made by Don Marketing”.

Shell is defending legal actions which allege that it wrongfully used two forecourt promotions devised by Don Marketing. Previously, the oil company has remained silent, preferring to “resolve the dispute in the courts which Shell believes is the proper forum for a commercial dispute”.

The statement claims that “the allegation is untrue. Don Marketing has no case and the legal actions are being strenuously defended”. Mr Donovan has written to the directors of Shell UK and its parent companies, and plans to write to the company’s shareholders, the President of the Board of Trade and users of the Internet.

Don Marketing also alleges that it plans to produce a book, and has sent a questionnaire to Shell sites in the UK attempting to assemble negative views of Shell. Shell believes these actions are an attempt to sully its reputation with sensationalist allegations in the hope the company will be forced into settling false claims.”

Don Marketing has faxed Shell md David Varney giving him “seven days to retract certain defamatory claims within the statement after which,” said John Donovan, “we will issue libel proceedings”. Shell’s response is steadfast: “What we said is true and accurate.”

Meanwhile Mr Donovan claims that 75 per cent of those who responded to the questionnaire thought Shell ‘unethical incompetent, greedy bathbuns’ against four per cent who chose to describe the company as ‘ethical, reasonable and efficient.


Marketing Magazine: STOP PRESS: Shell has confirmed that its senior management will hold talks with Don Marketing: 25 May 1995

Shell has confirmed that its senior management will hold talks with Don Marketing to resolve legal actions between the two. Don has issued a libel writ, a high-court action and a small-claims case against Shell in a two-year struggle over two disputed promotions.


Alfred Donovan agreed to withdraw the above libel action as part of a Funding Deed agreement signed by Alfred & John Donovan and David Varney, the then Managing Director of Shell UK on 6 July 1995. In return for signing the agreement, the Donovan’s received a substantial financial package worth at least £125,000.


On 23 September 1998, Shell put up posters at The Shell Centre about our activities. The following day, we distributed leaflets outside the Shell Centre threatening libel proceedings. Shell removed the posters.


Marketing Magazine: Donovan brings new Shell writ “this time for libel”: 30 April 1998

Donovan brings new Shell writ

John Donovan, the sales promotion agency managing director who is suing Shell for copyright infringement over its Smart Card loyalty scheme, has served another writ on the oil company, this time for libel.

Donovan, whose agency, Don Marketing, has already brought three copyright actions against Shell, is suing over a press statement the oil firm released in response to his latest copyright writ.

Shell responded to the writ, served two weeks ago, by saying it was satisfied that “the claim … is entirely without substance”.

Donovan says that this implies he is bringing a claim which is “wholly bogus and false”. The libel writ claims damages on the basis that Donovan’s reputation has been gravely damaged and that he has “suffered acute anxiety and distress”.

A spokeswoman for Shell said: “All we have done is defend our position when publicly attacked by Don Marketing.”


Marketing Week: Shell: Don is more than ‘disgruntled’: Marketing Week LETTERS 21 May 1998

Picture Caption: Shell: Don Marketing’s battle over the Smart concept is its fourth High Court action against the UK company

I am writing in response to Alan Mitchell’s article about the key to loyalty card survival (MWMay 14).

He mentioned Shell’s aspiration to reach 8 million members within a year “legal battles with disgruntled sales promotion agencies permitting” – a reference to our High Court action against Shell. “Disgruntled” is not the description I would choose.

Frankly, I am absolutely pissed off with Shell UK. Let me explain why. The multimillion pound claim in respect of the Smart consortium concept operated by Shell in the UK and in several other countries is not our first High Court action against Shell UK. It is the fourth. All involve breach of confidence and/or breach of contract. All involve the same Shell UK national promotions manager. It has been going on for five drawn out years.

I also want to set the record straight regarding a statement issued by Shell UK on or around April 21 1998 in which it gave the impression that I am a vexatious litigant, who issues High Court actions in respect of bogus claims. In fact, Shell has already settled the first three actions in our favour.

I even received an unsolicited letter of apology from Dr Fay, the chairman of Shell UK, admitting that its dealings with us did not meet “the high standards we set ourselves and which our long relationship had led you to expect of us”. I have now issued libel proceedings against Shell UK for defamation in regard to its press statement.

As Shell is well aware, we were not the only sales promotion agency which complained to Shell UK about the business practices of the relevant manager. Even its retained promotions agency eventually refused to disclose confidential information in his presence. We are, however, the only agency which has been brave enough (or foolish enough) to take on one of the world’s leading multi- national Goliaths.

I do not recommend anyone else to follow our path. Litigation on such a scale has a destructive effect on business and family. Shell UK and its lawyers have bombarded my company and my family with threats over the years (verbally and in writing). Some have come from the highest levels of Shell UK management.

However, we will see it through to the end, as we are determined that right will prevail over might.

It is only fair to mention for the record, that in the interests of justice, Sir John Jennings, the chairman of Shell Transport & Trading Company up to June 1997, personally interceded in our legal battles with Shell UK. I had several brief meetings with him. He upheld Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles requiring honesty, integrity and openness in all of Shell’s dealings.

Mitchell mentioned Shell’s desire to expand the number of partners in Smart. With the objective of avoiding publicity that could have damaged Shell’s plans to expand the scheme, it was agreed over a year ago that Shell would, in effect, take the Smart claim up to the “discovery” stage, without any legal proceedings being commenced.

As litigation is now underway, that arrangement has ended. I am therefore sending legal notifications to existing Smart partners reserving rights to take legal action if they continue to participate in the scheme that Shell is conducting without our consent.

We will also be notifying potential partners.

John Donovan

Don Marketing

Bury St Edmunds



Daily Telegraph: Donovan’s beef with Shell online: 11 June 1998

Donovan’s beef with Shell on-line

HIGH court writs have been filed against Shell UK by independent marketing man John Donovan. Through his company, Don Marketing, he claims that in 1989 he was the brains behind Shell’s Smart Card scheme.

Donovan is alleging a breach of confidence and breach of contract and has also filed a separate writ for libel. He is talking of “multi-million pound” damages.

Suffolk-based Donovan is publicising his gripes on two elaborate and colourful internet websites, don-marketing. com and He has also decided to book adverts in the marketing press.

A spokesman for Shell UK says: “The matter is being strongly contested. It is not appropriate to comment further.”


Marketing Week: Don Claims first round in Shell libel action: 30 July 1998

By Clare Conley

Don Marketing, the sales promotion agency, is claiming a victory against Shell UK in the first round of a libel case against the oil giant.

Shell UK was ordered to pay costs for a preliminary hearing at the High Court which took place earlier this week. The libel case will be heard before a jury and Don Marketing will have the power to subpoena top Shell UK management, including chairman Chris Fay, to give evidence.

John Donovan, managing director of Don Marketing, says: “It will become the ‘McShell’ case to follow in the footsteps of “Mc Libel’.”

The Shell UK libel case is an off-shoot of a continuing legal battle over the ownership of the original idea for the Shell Smart card scheme (MW April 16). Donovan instigated the libel action in response to a press statement issued by Shell in April, in which Shell UK said it had investigated Donovan’s claim that he has rights in respect of several forecourt promotions and was “satisfied that it is entirely without substance”.

Donovan claims the statement caused damage to his reputation and personal anxiety and distress because it implied that he was pursuing a “bogus” claim for compensation.

(Correction by John Donovan. One spelling error, changing “Chris Say” to “Chris Fay”)


Loyalty Magazine: “McShell” case continues: August 1998

John Donovan is continuing his battle over the Shell Smart scheme (see page 3, Loyalty June 1998).

His company, sales promotion agency Don Marketing is claiming a first round victory against Shell UK in a libel case already being dubbed “McShell,” because of its David and Goliath-style similarities to the “Mclibel” case.

Shell UK had to pay costs for a preliminary hearing at the High Court which took place at the end of July. The libel case will be heard before a jury and Don Marketing will have the right to subpoena top Shell UK management to give evidence. Donovan has printed a full-page Legal Notice in industry magazine, Forecourt Trader, stating his company would “take legal action against any business infringing his right to the Smart consortium scheme.”

Donovan has also issued a dossier entitled the “Don Marketing Saga” to MPs, and alleges Shell is using underhand tactics.

Loyalty will continue reporting developments.


INCENTIVE TODAY MAGAZINE: Shell smacked over libel action: September 1998

The legal wrangle between John Donovan and Shell UK continues with Donovan claiming victory in the first round. Shell had tried to have a libel writ struck off and the high court ruled that Don Marketing indeed had a case following a Shell press statement which inferred that previous claims Donovan made against Shell were without merit, and the current claim is bogus.

Donovan alleges that Shell’s Smart loyalty scheme is based on proposals put forward by his company Don Marketing, and issued a High Court writ for misuse of confidential information and breach of contract in April.

In response to the writ Shell issued the press statement to Incentive Today which was printed in the May edition. Donovan immediately issued a writ for libel on the grounds that the statement implies that previous claims that he has made against Shell were without merit and that the Smart claim is bogus.

Shell attempted to have the writ struck off in a High Court hearing in July but failed and was ordered to pay costs. Shell has since issued its Defence and Counterclaim to the Smart writ and a response from Donovan is imminent. High Court hearings on either matter, however, are unlikely until next year.



SUFFOLK-BASED promotions agency Don Marketing faced multinational giant Shell UK in the High Court to argue its case of alleged breach of contract and misuse of confidential commercial information.

The dispute centres on Shell’s Smart multi-brand loyalty card, now operational in the UK and eight other countries. This, claims Don’s managing director John Donovan, is based on proposals he first put to Shell in 1989 – an allegation denied by Shell, which insists that Smart’s genesis was an inhouse project codenamed Onyx which began in autumn 1991.

Self-cast in the role of David to Shell’s Goliath, Donovan has successfully pursued earlier legal actions against Shell for infringement of his intellectual property; he also won an interim hearing against the oil giant for alleged libel.

Donovan and his father Alfred have become Shell shareholders and formed the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group, highlighting not only their own case but those of other disenchanted Shell suppliers and franchisees.

He has also run ads in the marketing press warning Shell’s partners in the Smart scheme [among them Avis Rent A Car, British Gas and First Choice Holidays] that they too could face legal action.


BURY FREE PRESS: Shell claim is settled: 9 July 1999

BURY FREE PRESS, Friday, July 9, 1999

Shell claim is settled

A DAVID and Goliath battle between a Bury St Edmunds businessman and oil giant Shell has ended in stalemate after both sides agreed an out-of-court settlement.

John Donovan, 52, was suing Shell claiming the company stole his ideas and turned them into its successful Smart Card loyalty scheme.

Shell denied the allegation and made a counter claim against Mr Donovan, alleging his company, Don Marketing, breached a confidentiality agreement.

On Tuesday, after days of battling it out in the HIgh Court, both sides agreed to the action being dismissed.

A joint statement issued afterwards said Mr Donovan bad abandoned his claim against Shell along with related libel proceedings.

“He acknowledged that these claims are without foundation and should not have been brought,” it said.

The statement added that Mr Donovan, who has lived in Bradfield Combust for 12 years, had withdrawn all allegations of impropriety against Shell or against its employees in connection with the proceedings and had agreed not to repeat them in any manner.

Shell said it acknowledged that the proceedings were brought in good faith and it also withdrew all allegations of impropriety.


East Anglian Daily Times: Stalemate for marketing firm’s ‘stolen’ idea claim:  7 July 1999

East Anglian Daily Times, Wednesday , July 7, 1999

Stalemate for marketing firm’s ‘stolen’ idea claim


John Donovan, from Bradfield Combust, sued Shell over a promotion he said was his idea. But yesterday his claim, and the firm’s counter suit, were dropped

Photograph: ANDY ABBOTT

A DAVID and Goliath court battle between oil giant Shell and a promotions expert who claimed they “pinched” his idea and turned it into a highly successful Smart Loyal Scheme has ended in stalemate.

Shell were sued by John Donovan, 52, from Bradfield Combust, near Bury St Edmunds, who claimed they misused confidential information relating to the scheme and refused to credit him as its creator.

Meanwhile, Shell had counter-claimed against Mr Donovan’s marketing company, Don Marketing, alleging breach of a confidentiality agreement.

But after days of battling in London’s High Court, both sides have agreed to dismiss their actions.

A joint statement issued afterwards said Mr Donovan had abandoned his claim against Shell along with related libel proceedings.

“He acknowledged the claims are without foundation and should not have been brought,” said the statement.

It added that he had also withdrawn all allegations of impropriety against Shell or its employees in connection with the proceedings and had agreed not to repeat them in any manner.

Shell acknowledged the proceedings were brought in good faith and they also withdrew allegations of impropriety made in the course of the proceedings.

Prior to the settlement, Geoffrey Cox, for Mr Donovan, told Mr Justice Laddie Shell approached Mr Donovan in 1989 and asked him for ideas to jazz up its nagging Collect and Select free gift promotion.

In response Mr Donovan claimed he came up with a joint loyalty card scheme under which Shell would join forces with a select consortium of other major retailers so that customers could collect credit points and claim their free gifts far more quickly.

He claimed Shell took an option to develop the plan and in 1997 launched the Smart Loyalty Scheme which incorporated his ideas. However, he accused Shell of refusing to pay, even though the scheme was highly successful.

Mr Cox had accused Shell’s witnesses of appearing to have “corporate amnesia”, yet claimed Mr Donovan had a “trusted and successful” record with Shell.


FORECOURT TRADER: Shell action abandoned: August 1999

The long-running and acrimonious dispute between Shell UK and sales promotion agency Don Marketing has ended following a statement released by both parties last month. The dispute centred on Don Marketing’s claim that Shell stole its idea for the Smart loyalty scheme. John Donovan, managing director of Don Marketing, took legal action against Shell claiming breach of contract and misuse of confidential information. Shell counter-sued him for breach of confidentiality.

Mr Donovan claims that between 1989 and 1992 he had a series of meetings with Shell where he outlined plans for a card-based, multibrand loyalty scheme. Two years after Mr Donovan’s last meeting with Shell where he was apparently assured of involvement if the scheme went ahead, Shell launched a trial of its Smart card without him.

In last month’s statement it was announced that Mr Donovan had abandoned his claim against Shell and his related libel proceedings, and had acknowledged that the claims were without foundation and should not have been brought. It said he had also withdrawn all allegations of impropriety made against Shell or its employees in connection with these proceedings and has agreed not to repeat them. For its part, Shell acknowledged the proceedings were brought in good faith.


Shell attempted to have the libel action struck off. Mr Justice Eady dismissed Shell’s application with costs on 27th July 1998, as reported above. 


The John Donovan libel action against Shell was withdrawn as part of a settlement of the SMART litigation contained in a deed of compromise dated 5 July 1999. Annexes 1, 2 and 3 includes a so-called joint press statement that was actually issued by Shell. The Deed of Compromise dealt with the abandonment of all claims. There was no mention of any payment being made by Shell.

Substantial settlement payments were however set out and sent to the solicitors acting for me as provided in a separate DEED of the same date, 5 July 1999.

The DEED contained this provision.

“The parties undertake to keep this Deed and the contents (including the fact of a payment being made) confidential to the parties and their professional advisors save that disclosure may take place under compulsion of law.”

Shell withheld the DEED in its entirety from the Judge Mr Justice Laddie. He had been deliberately completely misled about the outcome of the trial.

Therefore, when he made his Judges Comments in open court the following day, he was unaware that Shell had settled the case, paying ALL legal costs nor did he know that I would receive payment.

Fortunately, during the exchanges between the judge and my lawyer Geoffrey Cox captured in the Judges Comments, the precise documents handed over to the judge were mentioned.

AS a result, a false impression was conveyed by Shell when it withheld the key settlement document from the Judge.

It appeared that I had surrendered.

I have a communication from a senior Shell lawyer confirming that the relevant settlement document was withheld from the Judge.

This false impression was reinforced by a press statement released by Shell deliberately misleading the news media, the public and Shell shareholders. I agreed to the content of the press statement under duress from the bombardment of threats and sinister events.

The closing days of the trial were marked by an outright deception allowed by the Judge and ended in his heated exchange with my lead counsel Mr Geoffrey Cox. The Judge admitted that he had lost control of the trial.

Geoffrey Cox QC MP later became the UK Attorney General famous for his Brexit related declaration in the House of Commons that “This is a dead parliament.”

By coincidence or otherwise, soon after we wrote to every UK MP in January 2005 raising questions about the independence and impartiality of the Judge, he resigned (in June 2005) in controversial circumstances. 

Extract from a Telegraph article headlined:

‘Bored High Court judge resigns:

Mr Justice Laddie, 59, is thought to be the first judge to resign voluntarily from the High Court for 35 years and is the first to join a solicitors’ firm.

The solicitors firm was founded by a lifetime friend. Shell was a client.

He was a distinguished speaker in an informa law “In-house Counsel 2006” conference chaired by Shell’s legal director, Richard Wiseman, who had attended court on a daily basis.

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

Comments are closed.

Comment Rules

  • Please show respect to the opinions of others no matter how seemingly far-fetched.
  • Abusive, foul language, and/or divisive comments may be deleted without notice.
  • Each blog member is allowed limited comments, as displayed above the comment box.
  • Comments must be limited to the number of words displayed above the comment box.
  • Please limit one comment after any comment posted per post.