A green energy boss who launched a £1.5m lawsuit against a theme park over claims a ride left him crippled must now pay £200,000 in costs after he was caught white water rafting in South Africa.
Richard Walkden, 62, sued for the seven-figure sum, alleging that a cable car accident at Drayton Manor Park left him with pain so bad he was ‘totally unable to bend his back’.
But his damages claim against the parent company, was thrown out after a judge saw social media photos of him on a rafting expedition with his family.
The images showed him kitted out in a buoyancy aid and helmet, sat on the edge of a raft before it set off through the rapids of the Crocodile River, near Pretoria.
A judge found Mr Walkden – who previously worked as managing director of green energy firm, Eartheat Ltd in Leicestershire – ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and he was ordered to pay £200,000 in lawyers bills, with more to come on top.
High Court judge Mrs Justice Tipples said the county court trial judge had been entitled to find that Mr Walkden’s claim was dishonest as he had exaggerated his injuries.
Images of Richard Walkden showed him kitted out in a buoyancy aid and helmet, sat on the edge of a raft before it set off through the rapids of the Crocodile River, near Pretoria
The court heard the accident happened when an operator at the Staffordshire theme park set off a cable car containing Mr Walkden and his family too quickly, causing it to swing.
He suffered a back injury while he stood in an awkward position, trying to protect his young sons on the Easter 2014 outing.
Suing for £1.5m, he claimed the accident had left him with chronic pain, which had put an end to his career and his beekeeping hobby.
He was unable to bend his back at all, he claimed, and had also suffered psychiatric injuries in the traumatic event.
Drayton Manor Park Ltd admitted liability for the accident, but disputed the size of Mr Walkden’s claim and the extent of his injuries.
Evidence showed he had gone on a white water rafting expedition on the Crocodile River, in South Africa’s West Province, just eight months after the cable car incident.
Social media photos showed Mr Walkden sat on the edge of a raft in rafting gear, while lawyers pointed at other photos which they said showed him going down the river with the rest of his party.
Mr Walkden, who ran a renewable energy company, claimed he had not taken part in all of the activity, claiming he had only joined the party after the rapids, only paddling in calm waters.
But giving the original judgment at Leicester County Court in March last year, Judge Murdoch dismissed his claim.
‘I do not accept that he did not do the entire trip, he is kitted up to do it, his children are in the picture and yet none of them in their evidence says that he did not do the entire trip,’ he said.
A judge found Mr Walkden ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and the Leicestershire father failed to overturn the finding, ordering to pay £200,000 in lawyers bills, with more to come on top
‘If I were wrong with that analysis I would find that in any event he was still required to paddle even on flat water and that would have been a hard, physical activity.
‘The raft would need to be ported in and out of the water which again would be hard physical activity. His evidence was not in my judgment credible or reliable on this issue.’
The judge found that – although Mr Walkden would have been entitled to £17,600 compensation for the accident – he had exaggerated his injuries so much that the claim was ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and would be dismissed.
Challenging the finding at the High Court, Mr Walkden’s barrister Satinder Hunjan QC argued that the judge had not properly taken account of all of the evidence in Mr Walkden’s favour.
Witnesses told how he had had to give up his hobbies of cycling and beekeeping, and the only proper finding that the judge could have made was that Mr Walkden had suffered ‘severe consequences’ as a result of the cable car accident.
Rejecting the appeal and upholding the dishonesty finding and Mr Walkden’s six-figure bill for the case, Mrs Justice Tipples said Judge Murdoch had not ignored or failed to take into account evidence.
The witnesses had only given evidence about their perception of how Mr Walkden presented his disability to them, she said, and Judge Murdoch had found that Mr Walkden was not ‘credible’ when it came to his self-presentation of injury and pain.
‘The judge had a wealth of evidence before him on these issues from lay witnesses, medical experts, contemporaneous documents and so on,’ she said.
‘The judge devotes most of his judgment to summarising, and analysing all this evidence which was placed before him in relation to these issues.
‘He does so, in my view, succinctly and with considerable care and, as a result, he found that the appellant was not a credible witness, and had exaggerated his injuries.
Mr Walkden, pictured, ran the Leicestershire-based green energy business Eartheat
‘It was in that context that the judge rejected the appellant’s case that he was suffering from a chronic pain syndrome. The appellant did not suffer a life-changing injury as a result of the accident which meant he was unable to work.
‘There was ample evidence before the judge on which to reach this conclusion, and it is not a finding of fact which cannot be reasonably explained or justified.’
He concluded: ‘There was ample evidence before the judge to conclude that the appellant had been ‘fundamentally dishonest in relation to the primary claim or related claim’ and the claim should be dismissed.’
The decision means Mr Walkden has to pay Drayton Manor’s costs of defending the claim, with £200,000 up front, pending a full assessment of his final bill.
Lawyers say the final bill is likely to total ‘several hundred thousands pounds.’