No win-no fee may be one of the most supposedly democratic yet abused practices of the 21st century.

The letter that sent Jaya Babykumar, who runs Wellesley General Stores in Croydon, into shock said: “Our client purchased a 500ml bottle of Ribena on April 16, from the cooled drinks area in your store. Our client drank the drink and, as a result, became ill. On inspection of the bottle our client observed that the drink was past its sell by date by a considerable amount of time.”

The letter went on to itemise alleged faults and injuries sustained (vomiting, hot flushes, fever, diarrhoea) and concluded that medical experts would be appointed and that the retailer’s insurer had to be informed. Damages would be claimed.

Jaya was distraught. Her husband was on holiday and she was given demanding deadlines. It unfortunately coincided with her insurance renewal being due and, of course, she had to disclose this Damocles’ sword hanging over her. As a result, she was told that her next insurance premium would nearly double from £440 to £850.

The letter gives only two pieces of information: a 500ml bottle of Ribena past its sell-by date and an ill consumer. No receipt is mentioned, or the date.

I spoke to Ribena’s manufacturer to find out how old Ribena would have to be to make anyone that ill, but it reasonably responded that it couldn’t possibly comment unless it had a sell-by date. Quite. At any rate, Jaya stacks the shelves herself and says she is careful about dates.
It’s not normal. If a customer has a bad experience with a product, they go back to the store or manufacturer, or to the environmental health officer…not straight to the lawyers.

As this is being written Jaya has got a cheaper quote from a different insurance company. Nothing is resolved yet; so story to be continued…