Thursday, November 8, 2012

The FriendsReunited Conspiracy (?) – Part 3 – The Contact

In summary a group of people have been after me for years and have completed a 12-year investigation into the history of FR in an attempt to discredit me.

For background to this story read:
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 – The Claim

These people first contacted us in May 2005. It appears now that suspicions and investigations had been going on for a number of years already. The letter we received was quite innocent – we don’t still have a copy but from recollection it claimed to be from someone doing some research into the history of FR. Quite a few people had done thesis pieces on FR over the years and we were always happy to help.

Julie replied very innocently to the letter.

One point here to remember is that even though Julie had the original idea of FR, when we launched in summer of 2000 we had a few month old baby and Julie did not get involved in any of the setup or technical running of any of our sites. That was the job of Jason and I. FR, as you can imagine at first launch, had no members and so over the coming next 6 months was more of a hobby for Julie, which she did in her spare time and worked really hard doing so. I mention this because in answering one of the questions raised by these people, she incorrectly replied that our ISP was a company called Densitron. We actually launched all our initial websites using a different ISP local to me called Aflex. After 6 months we moved to one nearer Jason in Kent – this was called Densitron.

A simple error by someone not closely involved in the technical side of our small setup. Or so you would think. However, as you will see in a blog, this error was in fact seen as the first breach in the edifice of the sprawling, dark conspiracy we were supposed to have engaged in.

Over the course of the next few months we received several more letters and emails from these people. Also, during this time, FR had entered into the initial process of due diligence for a sale of the business – eventually selling to ITV in December 2005.

I was always friendly in response to these peoples’ communications – in fact one time I phoned one of them up and explained the history of FR. I genuinely did not want them to waste their time – and mine for that matter.

The one determinative piece of information I pointed out to these people was the date of registration of the FriendsReunited URL: this is publically available to everyone on the Nominet database – it is 30th June 2000. Since they stated they only had their initial idea for a reunion-type site in July 2000, I felt this was enough to disabuse them of, and to stop them continuing to worry about, their claims.

They then asked for a copy of the invoice for the FR domain registration.

Whilst annoying, I got it scanned and sent over.

This was apparently not enough, and they asked to see the original.

Again trying to help but realizing this was beginning to get a bit stupid, I allowed them to see the original – by letting them come to our offices. Let’s face it, all these things only took a few minutes and should have drawn a line under things.

However, this still was not enough. I received a letter in September 2005 claiming the original invoice did not prove anything, and maintaining that more investigation needed to be done on it. What further investigation?? Forensic evidence?? Carbon dating??

Obviously this was enough for me now. I had up to this point been more than helpful – answering letters, talking on the phone, scanning in documents and letting them into our offices. I sent an email explaining my disgust and anger at their insinuations and their claims of us lying about the history of FR.

In response, I received an apology and confirmation that they would not be pursuing their claim any more. I still have that email.

However, the very next day I was called by a Times journalist explaining that she had been sent a “dossier” of information claiming we had stolen the FR idea from these people. I disclosed all communication and unsurprisingly the story never ran. I won’t reveal what exactly the journalist said about the dossier, but you can probably guess.

That was it for 7 years – no communication. I thought they had gone away.

In May this year, I received a letter from a Private Investigator. It claimed all kind of things – “ambiguity” and “questions are still un-answered”.

Here we go again I thought – pretty shocked at some of the language used.

Although pretty annoyed to have to explain all this again, I was sort of intrigued too. I knew there was no link to these people but started to wonder what they had actually been up to over these past 7 years – and what information they had employed the PI to gather.

I immediately tried to call the number on the letter. After a few missed calls I managed to speak to the PI a few days later. I explained the history of these people, but he was having none of it. I don’t really have any beef with the PI as of course he was being paid by his client. However, some of his insinuations and his insistence on meeting in person did make me angry. To be honest, anyone faced with these spurious claims would be entitled to become a little peeved.

A few weeks later I found out that another PI had called my old business partner’s ex-wife trying to fish for information. I was very angry, and when I next received communication from the PI I made it clear that they must focus their investigation on me alone.

At this point we realized these people were not going to go away. Julie and I are always very open and would never want to hide behind anything. Particularly when it comes to some people trying to discredit us. So instead of meeting just the PI, we insisted that one of the people behind all of this meet with us to put his ridiculous claims directly to our faces.

Rightly or wrongly we did so. I am actually pleased we did because it put a real identity to these people at last.

However I must admit I didn’t expect what we got. We met them for an hour and for the first 30 minutes Julie and I told them the story of FR from its inception. This included a part which we rarely told – Julie actually had the spark of the idea from tracking down her Grandfather she had never met using the Internet in 1999. Now Julie is one of the most decent and genuine people you would ever meet. As the meeting progressed it became clear that they were dismissing everything we said – so much so that they then asked me to sign a document to allow them to have access to old invoices generated by our first ISP, as they needed these for “proof”. As you can imagine this was outrageous. Basically they were calling us liars to our faces and saying everything we had just told them was some sort of cover-up script. Julie got very upset – understandably, and I realised very quickly that nothing we would say or do would ever convince them. Enough was enough. I decided I would not help them or communicate with them any more.

I had never been so disgusted – however, this was just the tip of the iceberg as I was soon to find out.

Whilst away on our summer holidays this year, I received further communication from the PI – a 2 page letter from these people saying our meeting had just raised more unanswered questions.

Sigh. I ignored it. However after a few days I admit it niggled away and I started writing a blog with the thought of going public, but I never got the opportunity to post it.

This was because 2 weeks later we got another email – probably the most disgusting and shocking email I have ever received…

Coming next – The FriendsReunited Conspiracy (?) – Part 4 – The Email



  1. Am feeling your anger... it's easy to say 'oh just ignore them' but I'm certain I wouldn't be able to (and that's before you've even posted about this enigmatic email)...

  2. Anyone who knows you and Julie (and of course the acres and acres of history and evidence) will know that this nonsense is exactly that NONSENSE. I am glad you are writing the blog - it is good reading and explains some of the frustrations evident in your tweets over the last year or two. Keep the chins up and go release your frustrations at the Bees!