Sex therapist in £2m court clash with old boss over ‘stealing clients’

Sex therapist Caroline Ley and former friend and mentor Siobhain Crosbie (Champion News Service Ltd)
Sex therapist Caroline Ley and former friend and mentor Siobhain Crosbie (Champion News Service Ltd)

Two rival sex therapists are fighting a £2 million court battle over claims that one hijacked the other’s online business profile to steal clients.

Siobhain Crosbie, who charges up to £200 a session to treat “sexual dysfunction” and “transgender difficulties”, has accused former friend and protégé Caroline Ley of sabotage after they fell out in December 2011. She says her business mysteriously nosedived, and later discovered that online inquires for her counselling service via Google were being diverted to Ms Ley’s business.

Ms Crosbie, 55, is suing her rival at the High Court for £1.42 million plus £456,109 in interest, claiming she has been the victim of “cyber fraud”.

But Ms Ley, 51, a psychosexual therapist who specialises in “sex addiction”, says the mixed-up business details were accidental and a “quirk of Google’s algorithm”. She is counter-suing Ms Crosbie for libel and harassment, claiming she has faced a “carpet-bombing” campaign of slurs to blacken her name on social media.

The court heard Ms Ley studied and worked under Ms Crosbie at her practice, APS Psychotherapy and Counselling in South Woodford, east London, before leaving to set up her own business in nearby Buckhurst Hill.

The women met on holiday in 2005 and became friends and colleagues, with Ms Ley renting a counselling space from Ms Crosbie in 2010 and 2011. Ms Ley’s barrister, Gervase de Wilde, said they “parted ways” at the end of 2011. Ms Crosbie told the court she then noticed a “drop in inquires” for her services. Her clerical supervisor reported that “the phone hadn’t been ringing for three months”, and during her financial woes she cut the number of rooms she was renting from three to one, the court heard. “At some point in March 2016, she discovered that if you clicked onto the phone number on her web listing, this connected to a phone number controlled by Ms Ley,” said Janaka Siriwardena, representing Ms Crosbie.

“Also, clicking on the directions icon led a web visitor to directions to Ms Ley’s (business) address. In March 2016, Ms Crosbie complained to Ms Ley that she had deliberately directed potential visitors to her own business and as a result, that Ms Crosbie had suffered a loss.

“Ms Crosbie also discovered that a listing for her business on coincidentally again led to Ms Ley’s business.

“Except Ms Crosbie did not consider this to be coincidental, but both acts were carried out deliberately as a means of passing off Ms Ley’s business as being similar or associated with Ms Crosbie. Further, logos and photos associated with Ms Crosbie’s listing were found on Ms Ley’s listings.”

The court heard Ms Ley blamed “Google’s merged listing process” for the mix-up, potentially caused by the two women’s businesses at one time operating from the same address.

Mr de Wilde said Ms Crosbie complained of “cyber fraud” to the police and embarked on a four-year social media campaign against her rival. “It is hard to conceive of any complaint against a former colleague based on a business dispute, no matter how well-founded, could justify the terms in which Ms Crosbie made her allegations of wrongdoing. These encompassed criminality, fraud, dishonesty, tax evasion.” Ms Ley is claiming “substantial” damages over the alleged harassment and libel — allegations Ms Crosbie denies.

Mr Justice Julian Knowles will deliver his ruling at a later date.