By Tom Winnifrith, The Sheriff of AIM | Wednesday 28 July 2021
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from ShareProphets). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
At time of writing, the Versarien (VRS) share price is 29.55p, below the crucial 30p support/resistance. If it hits the low 20s or high teens in the next month or two I don’t think anybody except the die-hard bulls on ADVFN would be surprised. And the company is due to release some numbers soon, expected to continue the pattern of declining revenues and to show profitability as far away as ever. With the number of covid cases declining sharply (and very welcome it is too), the bounce in revenues from selling graphene-enhanced face nappies will prove to be very temporary indeed, I suspect.
But even as it is, the share price is down by roughly a third (from c.44p) since the company’s loathsome boss, the bully boy of AIM, Neill Ricketts launched his ridiculous and ill-advised defamation action against bulletin board critic Ian Westbrook. Westbrook isn’t backing down, and the case has provided a rallying point for Ricketts’ many enemies and critics. I gather that the defence has at least one hugely damaging affidavit from a professional investor who was double-crossed by Ricketts in a business deal – someone who is very ready to take the stand as a witness – and some hugely embarrassing details have already emerged about the far-too-close dealings between Ricketts and failed copper and wannabe enforcer Graham Wood. Another damaging cache of emails between Wood and a private investor has just arrived via Winnileaks, and I’ll be reporting on them in the next few days.
According to the Investors section of the Versarien web site, Ricketts currently owns 13.6 million shares in the company. So the decline of roughly 14p in the share price since his ill-fated excursion into libel law has cost him, on paper, £1,904,000. He is claiming up to £100,000 in damages from Westbrook for the reputational damage caused by the defendant’s allegedly-defamatory remarks (and never mind the fact that almost daily – and libel case notwithstanding – Ricketts is called a charlatan, a liar and worse on public bulletin boards). The posts could of course have been removed at once. ADVFN will take any post down if someone complains but loathsome Neill opted to leave them up there for all to see. Any Judge is likely to view his claim for damages as a joke on that basis.
Even if Ricketts were to receive maximum damages from Westbrook in court that wouldn’t even come close to replacing the paper loss Ricketts has suffered from the decline in Vversarien share price. It is also not clear whether, even if Rickets wins (by no means a certainty), he will be awarded full costs against the defendant. The fact that Ricketts has chosen to sue one critic out of many, a critic who has often simply repeated what others have previously said, that he has left it so long to launch his action and that he has – how shall I put it? – kept some very questionable company, could all mean that he only receives nominal damages and party costs.
Following the costs and settlement of his recent divorce, it may well be Ricketts himself who faces financial ruin as a result of the case. At the very least, if he loses, he will have to stand down as an officer of the company. Even if he wins, but doesn’t get a big payout or costs, he may need to sell millions of shares to meet his legal obligations, further killing the Versarien share price .
It may be, of course, that the decline in the company’s share price has nothing to do with the legal action. The drop may just be the cumulative effect of years of rabid over-promising and zero delivery by Versarien’s irrationally-exuberant CEO.
Or it may be that the markets see the libel case for what it is – a desperate last throw of the dice by a tawdry stock promoter. Ricketts has completely failed to deliver on a single one of his grandiose promises – in China or anywhere else – so is using the law to try and silence a vocal critic. Seeing Ricketts trying to explain the financial harm caused by Westbrook’s comments is going to be one of the highlights of the trial, if it ever comes to that. Maybe someone who’d read ADVFN refused to buy Ricketts a pint down the rugby club, and his feelings are hurt. After all, he’s such a delicate flower.
In the meantime, the next stage of the process is a Hearing on Meaning, when the parties discuss the actual meaning of such phrases as ‘delusionally optimistic’ and ‘negligent misrepresentation’. This will happen towards the end of the year, and Westbrook is fundraising to cover his legal costs. The current total is £12,865 – but if the target of £20,000 isn’t reached by 5th August, then Ricketts wins and all donors get their cash back So please, donate HERE to the fundraiser and help the ordinary shareholder fight back against a bully. Do not let Ricketts win and set a precedent for other CEO promoters.
Surely it is worth paying a few quid to see Rickett’s sweating as he torn apart by a barrister in court?
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