Used car supermarket founder Peter Waddell accused of ‘bullying’ and ‘intimidation’ as High Court ponders case

  • Details of Peter Waddell’s alleged misconduct laid bare at High Court
  • Judge hears allegations of ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’ and ‘intimidation’
  • Big Motoring World founder said to have ‘physically slapped or punched’ manager of one of his sites
  • Waddell denies all allegations in witness statement submitted to court
  • Judge will rule in coming months on whether to reinstate his voting rights at car supermarket group

Time 8:31 am, May 24, 2024

Big Motoring World boss Peter Waddell could have to wait until July to find out whether he will have his voting rights at Big Motoring World returned to him.

Waddell has been at the Royal Courts of Justice this week as the 56-year-old seeks an interim injunction that would see him handed back voting and information rights as shareholder of the business, ahead of a full trial.

He had previously been calling to be reinstated as a director of the firm but his legal team dropped the claim during the hearing.

It comes after he was ousted from the company in March, following a breakdown in relations with investment group Freshstream.

Yesterday (May 23), Waddell’s conduct was subjected to scrutiny at the High Court hearing and the theme continued well into the afternoon’s submissions, when the court was told he was accused of hitting the manager of one of the company’s sites prior to being forced out of the business.

Edward Davies KC, representing Bluebell Cars, which is part of Freshstream, revealed more details about Waddell’s ‘erratic’ behaviour after the used car supermarket boss was labelled in court as ‘abusive, racist, sexist, misogynistic and irrational’.

The barrister told the court that Waddell was accused of ‘physically slapping or punching’ the manager of one of his sites – a complaint which, he says, was later upheld by an independent investigation.

The court was also told that a complaint of racist comments from Waddell was upheld as well, with the company’s report returning ‘findings of bullying behaviour’ towards employees.

In addition, Waddell is said to have made reference to sex and used other offensive language ‘in the context of important meetings’.

Other allegations included reports of Waddell adopting an ‘inappropriate and abusive manner’ when handling customer complaints.

The case so far:

Davies also alleged that even since being suspended and subsequently removed from Big Motoring World, Waddell had continued to behave ‘inappropriately’.

He is alleged to have sent a ‘tirade’ of WhatsApp messages, one of which included a threat to ‘delete’ a Freshstream director.

In another, he suggested he was having a director watched and threatened to post their personal phone number on social media.

He is even accused of threatening to publish an ’embarrassing’ photograph of a female employee, the court was told.

Prior to the High Court hearing getting under way, Waddell is also said to have threatened to sack ‘disloyal’ staff members if granted a return and told one employee ‘we are going to die you [sic]’.

Davies told Court 6 of the High Court’s Rolls Building: ‘He is deliberately seeking to provoke board members and members of Freshstream.’

‘There has been a constant stream of harassment and intimidation.

‘He is intent on causing as much trouble as possible and hurting the people he thinks are responsible [for forcing him out].’

Waddell did not respond to the independent investigation, the court was told, as he was signed off by a doctor at the time, but he denied the allegations in a witness statement submitted to the court.

Car Dealer Live comments

Waddell was initially suspended from Big Motoring World on March 7 – the same day he appeared on stage at our Car Dealer Live conference at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon.

Davies told the court that a female waitress at the event had made a complaint about a verbal comment Waddell made to her at the event.

She was so upset that she had to be sent home and the matter was referred to Big Motoring World’s directors.

That same day, Waddell also revealed on stage that he was making a rapid move to hoover up Cazoo stock after the online used car dealer scrapped sales.

The comments, which had not been authorised by Big Motoring World, ‘triggered concern’ from the firm’s finance house, Black Horse, which expressed worries over Waddell’s ‘erratic’ announcement.

NatWest is also said to have considered ‘de-banking’ the group as a result of Waddell’s behaviour.

Waddell later called the bank and an exchange with a female employee there also led to a complaint, Davies said.

The barrister said that Big Motoring World had been left ‘in the last chance saloon’ with Black Horse and the broker was now ‘much happier without Mr Waddell’.

He told the court: ‘This was a public event, organised by Car Dealer Magazine, which is an important publication in the sector.

‘He made an inappropriate, misogynistic comment to a young female waitress, which resulted in a formal complaint.

‘The woman was so upset that she had to leave work.’

He added: ‘At the same event, he announced he’d made a bid to buy 3,500 cars from Cazoo.

‘This triggered concern from Black Horse about Mr Waddell’s erratic behaviour in making announcements of this kind.

‘NatWest even considered de-banking the group due to Mr Waddell’s behaviour.’

In response to the claims, Waddell’s lawyer – Paul Chaisty KC – said his client denied all the allegations and an appeal process was under way.

He added that the allegations of misconduct ‘should not mean that [Waddell’s] rights of approval [at Big Motoring World] should not apply’.

On Wednesday (May 22), the court was told by Waddell’s lawyers that the investors had made no attacks on his client’s ‘skills or business acumen’ and had only accused him of ‘saying various things to employees’.

What happens next?

The High Court took submissions from both sides throughout Wednesday and Thursday, with the final evidence being given shortly before 4.30pm yesterday.

Judge Murray Rosen KC reserved judgment on the application and will return a conclusion by July.

The court was told a full trial ‘ought to be achievable by November’ and is expected to last between seven and 10 days.

If Waddell’s application is successful, Freshstream would have to give him 14 days’ notice of any major decisions and would not be allowed to make ‘material’ changes to the business without Waddell’s written permission.

In response to concerns that Waddell may act in a way that would harm the company if he is allowed to return, Chaisty said he remained the majority shareholder and it was a ‘quantum leap’ to suggest he would ‘spite himself’ and reject ‘commercially beneficial’ proposals.

A decision on whether to grant the injunction is expected in the coming months.

Jack Williams's avatar

Jack joined the Car Dealer team in 2021 as a staff writer. He previously worked as a national newspaper journalist for BNPS Press Agency. He has provided news and motoring stories for a number of national publications including The Sun, The Times and The Daily Mirror.

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