The boss of BrewDog, James Watt, hired private investigators to obtain information about people he believed were taking part in a smear campaign against him and repeatedly accused one woman of being involved until she blocked him on social media.
According to multiple sources and evidence seen by the Guardian, private investigators who said they were working for Watt approached people to gather evidence about those who he appeared to believe had maligned him.
One subject of their inquiries, Rob MacKay, an ex-BrewDog employee, had appeared in a BBC documentary, The Truth About BrewDog, which made claims about the company’s workplace culture and Watt’s personal behaviour as an employer, including towards women.
A former colleague of MacKay’s says he was visited at work by two ex-policemen working for a company called Integritas Investigative Solutions.
“They said they’d been hired by James Watt and were serious crime investigators,” the former colleague said.
“They said they’d been hired by James’s lawyers to build a case. They asked me how well I knew Rob, how I found working with him and how did it compare to experiences in BrewDog.”
The men left a business card for Integritas.
Integritas investigators also approached a friend of a female former acquaintance of Watt asking for details of their discussions, evidence reviewed by the Guardian indicates, after Watt became convinced that she was involved in online allegations about him that appeared on social media.
The woman, who asked not to be named, also received multiple messages from Watt himself, in which he told her he had “extensive evidence from multiple sources of what you and others have been doing” and warned she could face legal action.
Despite her repeated denials, he continued sending her messages by email and on Instagram until she blocked him.
In June last year, BrewDog apologised to former employees who accused the company and Watt in an open letter of fostering a “culture of fear” in which workers were bullied and “treated like objects”. Members of Punks With Purpose, the group behind the letter, took part in the BBC documentary, which aired earlier this year.
Watt was later accused of trying to “intimidate” people who appeared on the programme, after he issued a public warning in advance of the broadcast that they could be unmasked in court and that it was “not too late” to pull out.
He disputes the allegations in the documentary and has since lodged a complaint against the BBC with media regulator Ofcom.
One former BrewDog staff member in the US, who also appeared on the show, said he felt put under pressure by lawyers acting for BrewDog to retract his statements.
Dylan Gray, who worked in a BrewDog bar in Columbus, Ohio, said during the documentary that he believed James Watt’s behaviour towards female employees had made them uncomfortable and that he had tried to ensure fewer women were working when he was around.
Soon after the programme aired, he said, US lawyers acting for BrewDog contacted him disputing the claims and asking him to retract them.
A BrewDog spokesperson said: “James Watt has been subjected to a two-year criminal campaign of online harassment, defamation, fraud, blackmail and malicious communications, instigated by a very small group of individuals. Investigators were hired to find the source of these false allegations, to seek to bring this to an end.
“As a result of those investigations, our lawyers are pursuing a private criminal prosecution for fraud and malicious communications in a court in London, there are related civil proceedings under way in Scotland and other matters have been reported to the police. These proceedings also relate to individuals directly involved in the leadership of the Punks With Purpose movement.
“We will no longer allow blatant lies to be told about our business or our people. Where those lies are told, we are duty bound to set the record straight and will expect retractions where required. We hope that by taking this action now, we can bring this deeply distressing campaign to an end.”
Integritas said it had “uncovered evidence of a very clear criminal campaign, organised by a small group of individuals seemingly intent on causing harm to Mr Watt and BrewDog.
“We conduct all our investigations with the utmost integrity,” it said.