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Vent it on the net

Cornwall plays home to frustration, and possibly libel

People who are getting sick of substandard service and being charged over the odds by rogue traders can now voice their opinions on the newly launched Peoples' Page.

The site, launched by consumer vigilante Mike Rabey, lets consumers email in problems they have had with companies, missing persons information, fund raising appeals and other issues they want to air.

"It's about creating an online community," said Mike Rabey, who's also director of CD-programming firm Microlyn.

But although some areas of the site such as 'fundraising' and 'insurance write-offs' are fairly safe areas, publishing potentially defamatory accounts of companies along with their contact details is treading on libellous ground.

"We will only be posting complaints when we have a response from the rogue trader for balance," said Rabey. "We will not be adding comment, simply publishing consumer letters and company responses. It is not our opinion being posted." But this won't necessarily save Rabey.

There is no legal responsibility to provide companies with the opportunity to respond. But libel law is in place to protect individuals from unjustified attacks on their reputation.

"It's a question of degree," said Michael Coyle director of internet law firm Lawdit. "As long as the person's letter is not defamatory and they are sticking to the facts of what's happened, then publishing names and addresses along with accounts is fine."

Demon Internet was the first ISP to be held responsible for defamatory information posted on its site. The general rule for ISPs, in simple terms, is they will be held responsible for libellous content if they do not take it down once it has been highlighted.

"Microlyn will be treated as a service provider and will therefore be held responsible for any comments on its site," added Coyle. "The site's editor needs to ensure people stay within the rules."

The Consumers Association and Cornwall Trading Standards, Microlyn's local office, would not comment on Rabey's site, and both advised consumers to contact them directly with any issues they have with companies.

More limited versions of this site already exist, such as, www.Nthellworld.com, where people vent their frustrations with NTL's services.


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