Comedian John Bishop has set Irish-based hearing tech firm on course for 'its demise', court told

It is claimed that Mr Bishop terminated the employment contracts of all of Hears staff on June 24 while "he was attending the Glastonbury music festival"
Comedian John Bishop has set Irish-based hearing tech firm on course for 'its demise', court told

Comedian John Bishop is a shareholder and a director of Hears. File picture: Denis Minihane

A shareholder in a software company set up to help people with hearing difficulties has claimed before the High Court that the firm has been damaged due to the "irrational, unfair, wholly unfounded and oppressive" actions of well-known British entertainer John Bishop.

The claims have been made by Maltese-registered BAK Holdings Limited which says that its interests as a shareholder in Hears Technology Limited are being oppressed by Mr Bishop, who is a shareholder and a director of Hears. Other shareholders in Hears include Mr Bishop's son, Joseph Bishop, and U2 drummer Larry Mullen.

The dispute arising out of the breakdown of the relationship between John Bishop and BAK is the subject of two sets of proceedings currently pending before the High Court. In one of the actions, which was mentioned before Ms Justice Eileen Roberts on Monday, BAK claims Mr Bishop has set Hears on a course for "its dissolution and demise".

Among its claims, BAK says Mr Bishop terminated the employment contracts of all of Hears staff on June 24 last while "he was attending the Glastonbury music festival" and terminated the lease the company had for a premises in Co. Kilkenny. Mr Bishop, it is also claimed, is not acting in the company's best interests and was in effect winding down the business.

BAK further claims that Hears is only being kept in existence by Mr Bishop to pursue litigation in other separate proceedings against the Maltese entity and its director Mr Brendan Morrissey. Those proceedings, BAK adds, are an attempt to "intimidate and bully" BAK and Mr Morrissey into "walking away from Hears."

Mr Bishop denies any wrongdoing. A letter from his solicitor in response to allegations made against him stated that all employment law has been adhered to and the company was left with no choice but to "implement redundancies" due to BAK's attempts to "scuttle" the company.

In its proceedings BAK, which rejects Mr Bishop's claims, seeks a High Court declaration that due to Mr Bishop's actions the affairs of Hears are being conducted in a manner oppressive to the applicant. BAK seeks an order that it be paid compensation by Mr Bishop, or in the alternative that the court make an order directing Mr Bishop and the other shareholders to purchase BAK's shareholding in Hears.

It is claimed that Hears' main shareholders are Mr Bishop and BAK. a technology development company, with each holding 42.5% of Hears' shares. Mr Mullen, Joseph Bishop and GF Portfolio Ltd, which are notice parties to the oppression proceedings, each hold 5% of Hears Technology's shares, it is claimed.

Oppression proceedings

BAK's oppression claim is the second set of proceedings brought arising out of what the court was told was a falling out between the shareholders of Hears. Last year, Hears had proceedings against BAK and Mr Morrissey admitted to the fast-track Commercial Court list.

It is claimed by Hears in that action that Mr Morrissey has allegedly defrauded the company of approximately €1m, which it is alleged was paid to BAK for software development services which were independently valued as being worth approximately €215,000.

It also alleged that a €548,000 credit for software services allegedly made available to Hears by BAK in consideration for shares in the plaintiff company was never actually provided. The claims are fully denied.

Mr Morrissey a businessman of the Pink House, Kells, Co. Kilkenny, says in his defence to the commercial court proceedings that all of the payments made by Hears to BAK were legitimate. That action has yet to be determined.

In a sworn statement in the oppression proceedings, Mr Morrissey said he played "a central" and "pivotal" role in establishing and developing Hears. He said his solicitor Mr Landers has sought clarification from Mr Bishop on certain matters, including Mr Morrissey's removal from being a director of Hears in May 2022.

These include a clarification on the Hears company records where it is stated that Joseph Bishop exercised a proxy vote on behalf of Mr Mullen on the vote to remove Mr Morrissey as a director. This was in circumstances where Mr Mullen's solicitors have confirmed that the musician said that he returned a proxy to abstain from that vote, Mr Morrissey said.

Clarification has also been sought on the July 2022 establishment of a separate IT services company called Kleara Limited, in which Mr John Bishop is listed as a director. Through his lawyers Mr Bishop denies any wrongdoing, saying that company law has been adhered to, and that Kleara does not use any assets of, and has no relationship with Hears.

Monday's hearing

On Monday, Padraig Lyons SC with Brendan Savage, instructed by solicitor Setanta Landers, for BAK said that the accusations made against his client in the commercial court are "false, trumped-up allegations." which are quite serious for his client.

Arising out of those proceedings, and the alleged manner in which Mr Bishop has been running Hears, his client has brought a claim under the 2012 Companies Act alleging oppression, counsel said.

Eoghan Cole Bl for the comedian said his side's view was that BAK's proceedings are premature and should adjourned generally with liberty to re-admit pending the outcome of the related proceedings before the Commercial Court. Having two sets of proceedings before two different courts arising out of the same dispute, counsel added, would be costly and time consuming.

Counsel said that it was also significant that BAK had been invited last year to have the oppression action heard by the Commercial Court but had declined to do so. BAK, Mr Cole said, had delayed and had only initiated the oppression proceedings in recent weeks.

In reply, Mr Lyons said that his side was opposing any application to stay the oppression proceedings, and that his client's action is a genuine and legitimate effort to protect its interests. Any stay application should be made formally to the court, and grounded on a sworn affidavit from Mr Bishop, Mr Lyons added.

In her ruling, Ms Justice Roberts expressed her general opposition to two sets of proceedings arising out of the same dispute running before two different courts. However, the court said that any application to stay the oppression proceedings should be formally made to the court. The judge agreed to adjourn the matter for a month to allow Mr Bishop's lawyers prepare the stay application.

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