A property developer who sparked outrage by hacking tiles off a Brighton pub has a reputation in the video industry for not paying freelancers.
Brighton and Hove News has spoken to several people who have had dealings with Charlie Southall, who runs Dragonfly Digital Video Services, and seen court documents relating to other cases.
Some freelancers have taken him to court over unpaid bills totalling thousands of pounds – which has sometimes provoked counter-actions of his own.
A former friend of Mr Southall’s says he once told him he enjoyed taking legal action against people. Mr Southall has since taken action against him too.
And he is currently in mitigation over a £500 claim he’s lodged over a photoshoot which he didn’t turn up to after a dispute – claiming he had spent more than £1,000 on a stylist, hair and make-up, and that the photographer owes him more than £500.
Mr Southall was questioned about this reputation at a public meeting he called at the Montreal Arms pub, which he has since “vandalised” by hacking off large parts of its distinctive green tiles.
A woman asked him: “You have got a reputation locally for not paying contractors and employees.
“How can people trust you?”
Mr Southall replied that in the last 16 years, his company had had professional relationships with thousands of people, and some had broken down, adding that you would expect complaints about any business. His full response is included at the bottom of the story.
Brighton and Hove News can now detail how a handful of those relationships have gone sour.
People who spoke to us said they were keen to tell their story as they had found the experience intimidating and stressful, and wanted others to avoid the same.
The photographer he is currently suing took a booking for a headshot session with him at his London studios in September 2020. Mr Southall paid a £30 deposit.
The morning of the photoshoot, Mr Southall called up and requested the photographer send him all the unedited footage from the session. The photographer said it’s an industry-wide standard not to release this and declined, and the call ended abruptly.
Mr Southall did not then turn up for the session, and the photographer forgot about it.
Nine months later, the photographer was shocked to receive formal notification he was being taken to court by Mr Southall to recoup £500 expenses for the deposit, hire of a car for use in the shoot, £250 in management time arranging an alternative photographer, and the extra amount that photographer cost.
The photographer is defending the case, which is currently in mediation.
In 2017, a local brand strategist agreed to develop a brand and communications strategy for Dragonfly. Mr Southall signed a contract for £4,070 of work with her company , and paid her a £2,025 deposit.
During the project, Mr Southall responded positively to the work being delivered, writing in an email he felt sure her involvement with Dragonfly was going to be “a very beneficial step in business development”.
But days later, when the strategy was delivered, he declared he was not happy, and refused to pay the outstanding amount.
After she wrote to him saying she would be taking legal action, he filed his own claim against her to return the deposit. She then filed her own counterclaim.
After several months of protracted and occasionally bizarre legal wrangling, she agreed to abandon the counterclaim on the agreement he withdrew his claim.
In an email, he said to her: “I can afford to lose this case and am happy to push on. Dragonfly have in excess of £1million cash reserves in the bank today – the question is, can you afford to lose this?”
She told Brighton and Hove News: “I found this dispute extremely stressful, and ultimately decided that my mental wellbeing was more valuable that the money at stake.”
Another video editor, who wished not to be named, successfully took Mr Southall to small claims court in 2008, when he was running a different company, Dragonfly Productions UK.
Mr Southall had commissioned her to do some editing, at an agreed rate of £700 for five days work. The work overran several times, and each time, she informed him the amount payable would therefore increase, with no objections. The final invoice was £1,650.
Mr Southall told her he would not be paying, and so she took him to small claims court and in 2009 won a judgement ordering him to pay just over £2,000.
Mr Southall turned up to court with a cameraman who filmed her as she went in and out of court.
The money was never paid. Dragonfly Productions UK was dissolved in November 2011.
She said: After the judgement was made against him, he stormed out of the room and the judge told us we would very likely never receive our money.
“He was of course correct.”
Mr Southall’s current video production company was incorporated in March 2011.
In 2019, a young filmmaker applied for a job at Dragonfly, and was told she had the job. She was assured the contract was on its way, so handed in her notice at her old job. But no contract appeared.
Days before her start date, Mr Southall told her he was withdrawing the offer because her references hadn’t checked out. When she spoke to her referees, they said he had not been in touch.
She said: “In hindsight I was younger and naive but nothing like this had ever happened to me, who was I to know?
“Now, I truly believe I dodged a bullet.”
Mr Southall did not respond to a request for comment. His full response to the question posed to him at the public meeting he called on 17 March was: “I knew this would come up because there’s been links left on social media.
“I’ve been running a very busy production company for 16 years.
“When we go out on a shoot we can have 20-30 people just in a day.
“Over the course of a decade, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of human relationships bringing in contractors, subcontractors working.
“This is a few relationship breakdowns, a few misunderstandings, there’s a few people who don’t deliver on a promise.
“There’s going to be complaints about any business, any restaurant gets bad reviews, any supplier will have these issues.
“Yes, there’s things been written online about these topics.
“There was one year in 2017-2018 pre-Brexit, we were doing well, we were riding high. In that year we invested £300,000 into the freelance talent pool.
“The people who we have good relationships with, you don’t hear from them, do you?”
The meeting was called in response to questions made over how he stood to personally benefit from converting the pub into a residential refuge and an associated £85,000 crowdfunder.
Brighton and Hove News is happy to make it clear Dragonfly Digital Video Productions has absolutely no connection with Dragonfly TV.
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