As the How-Do Awards gear up to take place in Manchester tonight, a remarkable row is intensifying as to who owns the event and its related media news website.
In one corner is How-Do Limited, led by the Manchester Confidential publisher Mark Garner. He claims How-Do Limited owns both the awards and the How-Do website itself.
On the other side is new company Northern Publishing Limited, headed up by How-Do’s original founder Nick Jaspan. In spite of Garner’s protests, Jaspan now uses this new entity to run both the How-Do Awards and the How-Do website.
The matter has escalated so far that Garner has confirmed today that he is to make a complaint to the police alleging corporate theft.
So how has the bizarre turn of events come about?
It started in November last year when Jaspan, who owned 33% of the shares in How-Do Limited, agreed a deal with Garner’s entertainment and leisure website Confidential.
Garner claims the mechanics of the deal involved rolling his publishing assets into How-Do Limited – and taking 90% of the How-Do business in return.
As part of some complex corporate manoeuvring, his former operating business Cpub was then put into liquidation.
However, the marriage between Garner and Jaspan, who initially remained with the business, was not one which was made in heaven. Claiming he was concerned about the Cpub liquidation, Jaspan announced his resignation on 31 January.
But as well as leaving with four employees, he also took the How-Do website logins - which he had sole access to – and announced that he was to take on the How-Do Awards.
The other investors in the original How-Do, including Howard Sharrock, who had hoped to recover some of their investment as a result of the Confidential deal, are furious that Jaspan has left with assets which they believe they helped build.
And Garner and his fellow directors are also crying foul claiming that they saved How-Do from going bust as a result of taking on bank and employment liabilities.
In a heated meeting with Jaspan, How-Do Limited director Helen Ramsbottom said: “What makes you think you can just walk away with these assets?”
The sentiment was echoed by Sharrock, who blasted: “To find out that you have taken basically the bones of the business that several people helped to build up … I’m shocked that you’ve done that. I’m at a loss.”
Garner told The Drum: “I am 56 years old and I can’t believe I have got myself into this mess. The only mitigation was that I was in agony over a five week period where all this took place as a result of neurosurgery I had to undergo, so perhaps took my eye of the ball.”
Garner says he is now handing a dossier to Greater Manchester Police as well as making a complaint under the Data Protection Act.
As well as taking the website and running the awards, Northern Publishing is also using the How-Do database, which Garner alleges is in breach of the Data Protection Act.
However, he points out that he too has access to the same database and has already communicated to subscribers using the How-Do branding.
“There is a real salutary lesson here for website owners,” said Garner. “Without resorting to prohibitively expensive litigation, it is actually very hard to protect your IP if somebody else has access to your website domains.”
Garner has today published a statement and a dossier to support his claims on the website How-Do.org.
The Drum put the allegations to Jaspan yesterday. He said he would be happy to comment on the row at a later date as the matter is “still in the hands of our respective lawyers”.
In an email exchange with The Drum, he said the “majority of the dispute relates to issues of fraudulent misrepresentation”.
In a further twist he accused Garner of “remarkable defamation” for setting up the spoof Twitter account @NickedJaspan.