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UNIVERSAL THERMOSENSORS V. HIBBEN FACTS A group of employees left their employment to set up a competing business on their own. Dishonestly, they took away with them copies of documents of their erstwhile employer, containing information about customers. The employer found out what had happened and was justifiably angry. So the company launched proceedings, seeking an injunction and damages. An Anton Piller "search and seize" order was obtained on 3 April 1990 and was executed early in the morning at the homes of three of the defendants, and at the trading premises of two companies in the absence of any representatives of the companies. Documents and components were seized and taken away. An interlocutory injunction was granted on 9 July 1990. Unfortunately, serious mistakes were made in the execution of the Anton Piller order. It was now the turn for the defendants to be upset and angry. The new business collapsed. So the defendants brought a claim for damages, including exemplary damages, under the plaintiff's undertaking in the Anton Piller order of 3 April. They claimed that the interlocutory injunction of 9 July was too wide, and claimed damages under that head also. Setting up of the new company: There was some unease about the future of the company under Mr. James' control, and Mrs. Hibben did not wish to continue to work there once Mr. Baylis had gone. She told Mr. James this on the day Mr. Baylis left, and she also left the company at that time. Over the years some members of the plaintiff's staff found that Mr. James was not always the easiest person to work for. From time to time there had been casual conversations between Mrs. Hibben and the second and third defendants, among many others, about the possibility of their setting up their own business. Neither Mr. Baldock nor Mrs. Lawrence was happy about the plaintiff's future. The three of them talked about the possibility of starting up a thermocouple business of their own. A few weeks later they met again, and decided to look into the viability of such a business. The upshot was that the fourth defendant, Thermo Probes Ltd. ("T.P.L."), was acquired by them in mid-January 1989. The shareholders were Mrs. Hibben (50 per cent.), Mr. Baldock (25 per cent.) and Mrs. Lawrence (10 per cent.). They were also the directors. The remaining 15 per cent. of the shares were held by nominees on behalf of Mr. Michael Powell and Mr. Barry Johnson, who were employed by the plaintiff as assembly workers. Documents stolen from the plaintif: During the same period of nine months documents belonging to the plaintiff and containing information which the three individual defendants thought might be useful for the purposes of the
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