Johnny Mercer appears on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You while suing them for libel

0_jbr_dcm26042019mercer01Johnny Mercer MP’s appearance on Have I Got News For You didn’t reach the heights of car-crash TV and may not even make the end-of-season highlights episode. It may however make it into the textbooks of law students – to my knowledge, no-one has ever sued a corporation for libel and then immediately appeared on a comedy panel show hosted by that corporation to state their position.

Mercer appears to be so confident in his hand that he’s showed it to the BBC before betting has even started.

Normally it would be slightly unfair to overanalyse what people on comedy panel shows say, as they’re there to be funny, not 100% accurate. However, it’s still worth examining Mercer’s stated position on his Crucial Academy job, as this was essentially a preview of a libel action. Held on the defendant’s home turf, as opposed to the neutral ground of a court.

It is also worth examining what the BBC said (via David Tennant’s autocue) as well. The BBC didn’t lose any time before doubling down on their allegation – which Mercer regards as libel – that Mercer’s salary can be linked to LCF.

Tennant: And with Paul tonight is a Conservative MP whose second job, partly funded by the marketing company for a bond scheme that lost savers millions, has caused him to sue the BBC, and that’s before we have even started the show. Please welcome along with his legal team, Johnny Mercer MP.

Hislop: This is great. It’s a libel action and I haven’t joined in yet!

The fact that the BBC (via Tennant) repeated the bit I have underlined, when their lawyers could have watered it down to, e.g, “who is suing the BBC over allegations regarding his second job”, indicates Mercer is not the only one confident in their position.

Hislop: You were on a reality show, you were on Hunted.

Mercer: I was, yeah, to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer.

Hislop: Oh, you’re pulling that whole charity…

Mercer: Of course, yes. Because I can just see you cocking your…

Hislop: What?

Mercer: Erm…

Zoe Lyons: You’ve got better eyesight than me!

Merton: How long did you survive before you were found?

Mercer: I won! *audience applauds*

Hislop [to audience]: You’re applauding the fact that one of your representatives bunked off for two weeks and went on telly instead. *audience laughs*

Mercer: Yeah, absolutely right. What a good man.

Hislop: This libel trial is going to go well!

Mercer: I can’t wait.

Hislop: What bit did the BBC get wrong?

Mercer: This idea… so I run a company that trains veterans to go into cyber employment, and four companies away from that is a company that’s gone bust.

Hislop: Yeah, it’s not many companies. It’s quite a big company, four people have been arrested. Big story.

Mercer: It’s a big story, but…

Hislop: But you never, you never…

Mercer: Of course not. Why would I have anything to do with financial products?

Hislop: Not interested in losing your £85,000 salary, for a four hour…?

Mercer: Yes, and it was provided through business in that company, that that company generated had nothing to do with us.

Hislop: How does training veterans make enough money to earn you 85 grand?

Mercer: Because if you train them in cybersecurity and they have specialist skills, they go into FTSE 100 companies and they earn quite a lot of money in cybersecurity. I sound like a right bastard, don’t I, doing this whole sort of veterans employment thing?

Hislop: No, it’s not the veterans bit, it’s the £85,000 for a four-hour job.

Mercer: I know what you’re thinking…

Hislop: I’m thinking “Why don’t you do it for free?”

Mercer: I know, because you get 20 grand for 2 hours tonight, don’t you?

Hislop: Yeah, but the people who lost money out of this company are very cross with you. It’s about your behaviour and the fact you didn’t know, and didn’t ask, as a non-executive director, “Where does the money come from?”

Mercer: I did ask where the money came from and it came from the business, it’s generated by the business that we do.

Hislop: They were providing the money that kept your company going.

Mercer: No they didn’t. That’s why the BBC are being sued for libel, because no money went from that company into Crucial Academy.

Hislop: But it did though.

Mercer: Ok, well, you can keep saying that but it really didn’t.

Merton: This is one for Judge Rinder. *bemused audience laughs*

At this point Hislop and Mercer are probably talking at cross purposes as neither has specified who they mean by “that company”. Hislop may be referring to Surge, as the fact that Surge made a £300k loan to Crucial is a matter of public record. Mercer is almost certainly referring to London Capital & Finance, who paid £60 million commission to Surge. Whether that £300,000 came out of LCF’s £60 million is the point at issue.

Hislop: I’m merely trying to establish the facts. You say you’re going to sue the BBC for reporting a story that everybody else has run, and you say that’s not how the money got there.

Mercer: I am absolutely sure that not a single penny has come from LCF and gone into Crucial Academy. If it has, I would leave.

Hislop: It hasn’t gone directly in, it’s gone through a series of other companies.

Mercer: No, directly or indirectly. If it had, I would leave. Any more?

Hislop: Alright, well, we’ll see what happens.

Lyons: This is like all of my Christmas dinners with my family. *bemused and bored audience laughs*

Tennant: [trying to move the show along] Remember Ann Widdecombe? *more laughter*

Hislop: I’m sorry, David, it’s a big story. Four people were arrested and I know you think your political enemies have smeared you with this story…

Mercer: No, I don’t. I don’t think that. I don’t think they have smeared me with this story.

Tennant: But you have accused the Deputy Chief Whip of trying to dig up dirt.

At this point Mercer begins talking about a non-LCF-related “smear” against him involving the Deputy Chief Whip checking whether stories in Mercer’s military memoirs were true.

Let’s leave that aside and remind ourselves what Mercer said specifically about the LCF story on Twitter:

mercer statement

The question at issue is a fairly simple one as corporate finance goes. The BBC asserts that the £300,000 received from Surge is part of the pot used to pay Mercer from September until the loan was repaid.

Mercer has asserted on national TV that his salary comes entirely from revenue received by Crucial Academy for its trading activity, training ex-soldiers in cyber security. And that the Surge loan went in and out of the company without touching the pot used to pay him.Crucial

As a non-executive director, Mercer has access to Crucial Academy’s accounts and it should be a fairly easy matter to determine whether Crucial Academy, despite being a new startup which only launched a year ago, earns sufficient revenue from cybersecurity training to pay its non-executive director £85,000 a year from that revenue source alone.

Even if it does, Mercer’s attempt to portray his £350-an-hour non-exec-post as an act of benevolence on behalf of fellow veterans – “[sarcastically] I sound like a real bastard, don’t I?” – is difficult to take seriously.

6 thoughts on “Johnny Mercer appears on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You while suing them for libel

  1. It’s highly irregular. The Companies Act requires that all directors are registered with Companies House. There is no distinction in the Companies Act between directors and non exec directors. You’re either a director or you aren’t.

  2. If his colleagues, that he claims are stitching him up, read this then they will jump on it because this looks very much like he was “hiding” his involvement for reasons unknown but I hope questions are asked in the House …. the question is who is responsible for the “registering” with Companies House? Mercer or someone else?

    This is a “juicy” turn of events …. I hope it amounts to something and shows someone has been deliberately “careless” …

  3. Is Johnny Mercer a director of Crucial Academy ? He has a job title with the word director in it, there are lots of Directors of sales/marketing/change who are not statutory company directors . Makes it sound better that you ae getting 85K for 240 hours a year . So What could The Honourable Jonny Mercer MP give that is worth £85k ?

  4. There is I think a bit missing from your rather good diagram. The Crucial Group is made up of three companies. This is how they are defined on one of the Crucial Group’s twitter accounts @crucialgroupplc

    CA -Crucial Academy – Providing free accredited course in cyber security for transitioning British Military
    CR -Crucial Recrement – Global recruitment company focusing on future tech
    CC – Crucial Consultancy – Cyber consultancy focusing on risks to business from technical and legislative standpoint.

    One of the features of all this stuff is there are so many companies. This does give them the benefit of falling into the small or micro company definition with much-abbreviated accounts.

    But here is the problem if CA is giving out “free” courses it is not going to generate any income for these. The income will be generated when CR finds them a job and gets a fee. If the go to work for CC then they will CC generate the income. So where does the income for CA come from – well the companies could all recharge each other – oh there goes JM fire wall and all the money is mixed up again ……

  5. Crucial grp have been obviously bankrolled by Surge. They are roughly a year old and offer free cyber courses to veterens, as someone else said they only get paid once their recruiters place those trainees into a job.

    Now I know recruitment inside out and I doubt many of those veterans will get placed. So an infantry soldier of 15 years now has a data protection qualification, big deal. No one will want them.

    I did investigate Crucial on Linkedin and it appears their recruiters also place people into other technical positions so maybe they are making a small amount of money from that but if they are a year in, their rec biz won’t be making much profit if at all.

    I cannot see how Crucial grp make money and if they have truly cut all ties with Surge then we are in for a treat as this company set up with money from LCF bondholders (like myself and my wife) goes down, taking the dodgy MP with it

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