We will make a melodrama out of a crisis

`I could never resist the appeal of RAC men at motorway service areas. I joined four times in all'

A MOST extraordinary case is going on in the High Court at the moment, in which a motorist is suing Directory Inquiries for damages. He claims that because they gave him the wrong information, his car was ruined beyond repair. Directory Inquiries have never been successfully sued before, so if they lose this case it will make legal history.

To give you some idea of the issues involved, I am bringing you part of yesterday's proceedings.

Counsel: Now, you are bringing this action against Directory Inquiries, are you not?

Plaintiff: I certainly am.

Counsel: What is your name, please?

Plaintiff: My name is James Witherspoon of 27 The Avenue, Broadport, I am 43 years old, and married with two children, and the registration number of my green four-door Nissan is...

Counsel: Do you always give this needless data when asked for your name?

Plaintiff: I do, yes. As a business traveller I do a lot of signing into hotels, and I find that they usually want to know everything.

Counsel: I see. And on 17 July were you driving down from London to Malvern?

Plaintiff: Yes, I was. I was going to a very important business meeting.

Counsel: How important?

Plaintiff: All business meetings are very important.

Counsel: But what if a meeting is not really very important?

Plaintiff: Then we call it something else.

Counsel: Like what?

Plaintiff: Like lunch. Or touching base.

Counsel: I see. So there you are, driving from London to Malvern... Plaintiff: And my car breaks down near Cirencester.

Counsel: Did you attempt to mend it?

Plaintiff: No, I did not. It would invalidate the insurance. I am a member of the RAC so I determined to ring them for aid.

Counsel: Had you been a member of the RAC for long?

Plaintiff: Long and often. I joined the RAC in 1988. I joined again in 1990, and twice in 1992.

Counsel: Why did you keep joining the RAC?

Plaintiff: Because I am soft-hearted and could never resist the appeal of the RAC men at motorway service areas. They looked so cold and unhappy standing there, that I joined four times in all. Took out life memberships every time, too.

Counsel: I see. And on this occasion did you ring the RAC of which you were such a multi-serving member?

Plaintiff: Unfortunately, I had left all my documents at home, so I didn't have their telephone number. I rang Directory Inquiries on my mobile and asked them for the RAC number. They gave it to me and then I rang the number I had been given. They answered, and I asked them to come to my aid. They wanted to know if I was a member. I said I was.

Counsel: What happened next?

Plaintiff: I gave my position and they said they would do their best. About 40 minutes later a van arrived and five people got out.

Counsel: Five people? That seems rather a lot to mend a car...

Plaintiff: That's what I said. I said that five seemed a lot to mend a car. They said that only one of them was any good at mending a car. He started looking in the bonnet.

Counsel: What did the others do?

Plaintiff: They put on make-up, changed costumes and performed an extract from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Counsel: Isn't that an unusual thing for garage mechanics to do? Plaintiff: Yes, but it turned out they weren't garage mechanics. Upon questioning, they turned out to be from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Counsel: Why on earth...?

Plaintiff: Because the idiots at Directory Inquiries had thought that when I asked for the number of the RAC, I was asking for the RSC! The do sound very alike, admittedly...

Counsel: Let me get this straight. You dialled the RSC instead of the RAC and asked them to help you get your car started?

Plaintiff: Yes.

Counsel: And they came?

Plaintiff: Yes.

Counsel: Why do you suppose a company whose main skill is theatrical would offer help to a motorist with engine trouble?

Plaintiff: My guess is that the Royal Shakespeare Company has been having a lean season and would do anything to sell tickets. So they came to do my car.

Counsel: And did they mend it? Plaintiff: No. But they sold me four tickets for their new C S Lewis production.

More of this fascinating case soon, I hope...

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