Wednesday 20 March 2019

Woman 'looking for happiness' wins €14,500 damages claim in court from elite dating agency

Jan Colley

A woman who sued an elite dating agency for deceit and misrepresentation has won £13,100 High Court damages.

Awarding the sum to 47-year-old divorcee Tereza Burki on Wednesday, Judge Richard Parkes said: "Gertrude Stein quipped that whoever said money can't buy happiness didn't know where to shop.

"This case is about a woman looking for romantic happiness who says she was tricked into shopping in the wrong place, paying a large sum to a dating agency which, she says, made promises but failed to produce the goods."

Businesswoman Ms Burki, who lives in Lennox Gardens, Chelsea, central London, first approached Seventy Thirty, in nearby Knightsbridge, in 2013 in her pursuit of a new partner.

"Her requirements were not modest," said the judge.

What she wanted was a "sophisticated gentleman", ideally employed in the finance industry, and it was important that he should lead a "wealthy lifestyle" and be "open to travelling internationally".

The most important thing for the mother-of-three was a willingness to have more children as she had always wanted four.

Ms Burki was encouraged by what she found out about Seventy Thirty, which describes itself as an "exclusive matchmaking and elite introduction service", and eventually went ahead at a cost of £12,600.

In her action for deceit and misrepresentation, Ms Burki sought the return of her membership fee and damages for distress, while the agency sued her for libel and malicious falsehood in connection with two online reviews of its service.

In his ruling, the judge awarded Ms Burki £12,600 damages for deceit and £500 for distress.

He awarded Seventy Thirty £5,000 for libel relating to an April 2016 Google review but otherwise dismissed the claims for libel and malicious falsehood.

He said the agency's then managing director, Lemarc Thomas, represented that there was a substantial number of wealthy male members actively engaged in its matchmaking services who were a sufficient match for Ms Burki's criteria.

This was false and misleading, said the judge, as there were around 100 active male members, which could not "by any stretch of the imagination" be described as a substantial number, even without considering how far that number would have to be reduced to allow for compliance with the criteria.

"Had Ms Burki known what the true size of the active membership was, she would not have joined Seventy Thirty."

She was induced to enter her contract with the agency by the false representations given by Mr Thomas, who must have known he was giving her a wholly false impression, he added.

Ms Burki gave evidence that she was very frustrated and in a state of emotional turmoil because she was so disappointed with the service she received, in part because she was "running out of time" to have more children.

The judge said he could understand she felt let down by the fact that the claims by Mr Thomas turned out to be untrue, but she took two years to decide to join and was only a member for a few months.

Ruling on Seventy Thirty's claim, he said he had not found that the business was a fundamentally dishonest or fraudulent operation, although at the time it probably had a short supply of suitable men.

Had Mr Thomas explained to Ms Burki that the database included active members, former members who still wished to be matched, and people who had been headhunted and had agreed to be put on the database in the hope of finding a suitable partner, she would have had little cause for complaint.

As a result, as far as the Google review was concerned, Ms Burki had not proved that the agency lacked the means or intention to operate an effective matchmaking service - let alone that it was engaged in a fraudulent scheme to extract money from its clients for the benefit of its founder.

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