BBC reports sparked wave of negative publicity but were they fair?
I’ve recently been responding to various allegations which have been made about myself and Property Investors, both online and in the media. (See my previous videos and blogs). I have been asked several times since, however, to explain why I did not react to the BBC Inside Out investigation and online report. People have pointed out that those were the catalyst for the wave of negative publicity which followed. I feel the time is now right to address those reports too.
I respect BBC’s standards of journalism but feel let down by unbalanced reports.
Firstly, I welcome public debate on standards within the wealth creation industry and respect the BBC’s right in the public interest to scrutinise my property training company.
However, I believe there was a demonstrable lack of balance in the reporting, both online and on TV.
The BBC online article and coverage followed the tragic death of one of my students, Danny Butcher, who was a genuine and very likeable man. Like a lot of people who knew him, we were devastated to hear of his passing.
The headline and the start of the BBC’s online article immediately leave readers in no doubt who is directly to blame for Danny’s death.
The headline reads Doncaster property training debt soldier killed himself. The story goes on to state in the introduction that he had ‘killed himself after paying £13,000 for training with a property company that promises to help people become ‘financially free.’
The scene is set and instantly creates a feeling of hostility towards my training company.
However, the amount of pre-existing debt Danny had was £20,000 (as reported in The Telegraph). It has also transpired that he had suffered from mental health issues.
Those potentially significant factors are passed over in just one sentence in the BBC’s online report which simply states that ‘Mr Butcher had spoken about his mental health in the past and his family said he had existing debt.’ That’s it – everything else in the article overwhelmingly suggests I and my company caused his death.
There was no attempt to examine the extent of Danny’s mental health problems in any way, nor even to specify the significant amount of debt he already had. Yet those factors could be relevant to the circumstances surrounding his death. Why wasn’t this explored?
How the BBC used phrases ‘weighted’ against me
Instead of saying Doncaster property training debt soldier killed himself, consider how different the interpretation would have been had the BBC headline read: Doncaster man with debts of £20,000 and mental health issues killed himself. That would have been factual too. The point I am making is that the way it was worded inferred that my training company, Property Investors, was responsible.
I accept that it was accurate (in the literal sense) in the opening paragraph to say that he killed himself ‘after paying for training with a property company.’ However, it was pointed.
Again, how different the perception would have been if it had stated that he had killed himself after clocking up debts of £20,000 and suffering from mental health issues. That would also be just as accurate.
A careful choice of words is going on – and I believe the ones chosen by the BBC were weighted against me to suit the angle of the story.
Prior to the BBC report, I received a number of serious online threats and abuse on social media after being blamed for Danny’s death. There had been an orchestrated hate campaign against me for some time and it went into meltdown after Danny died. National newspapers and TV stations were contacted.
Emotions were running high. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was treated like a ‘murderer’ and had to inform the police after receiving death threats against myself, my wife and our two small children. The abuse reached new levels after the BBC’s reports.
It was extremely upsetting to hear that Danny had taken his own life and unimaginably distressing to be held responsible. I believe that the slant of the BBC coverage placed me even more in the dock.
Why did the BBC use this smiling picture of me with that caption?
Choice of images, just like words, can create false perceptions. A most glaring example of this is the picture of me which was chosen for the online article. It was ‘selected’ from a video of my appearance on a previous BBC news programme.
I feel this image clearly demonised me by showing me smiling next to a caption saying I was ‘heartbroken’ over Danny’s death. I was – but my expression hints at the exact opposite.
Why was that photograph chosen? It was so insensitive and did not remotely reflect how I felt. I believe that this is an example of a picture being chosen to fit the angle of the story. I believe it monstered me. The editor could not have chosen a more inappropriate image – nor one more likely to create an inflammatory reaction.
Danny initially withdrew his request for a refund
As I mentioned earlier, I liked Danny. While he voiced certain issues he had with our academy, he also took the trouble to point out in his texts that he had enjoyed his time with us. It was Danny who initially decided to withdraw his request for a refund. We still have the messages from him confirming that.
He took the decision to continue with the academy, but after a few months requested a partial refund which was due to be processed. We have records of the communications between us. The tone of messages on both sides was respectful and civilised throughout. In fact it was my brother Russell Leeds who first contacted Danny when he saw a critical post from him on Facebook and asked how he could help.
BBC’s unsubtle reference to me being a former ‘illusionist’
I feel that so many aspects of the BBC coverage were skewed against me and Property Investors. In the third paragraph of the online article, it is stated that my training school has been described as ‘operating like a cult,’ while the following paragraph pointedly stresses the company is run by ‘former illusionist’ Samuel Leeds.
Anybody reading that line would not fail to miss what is being suggested here – that I am operating some kind of deception or trickery – all ‘smoke and mirrors.’ These are extremely damaging inferences.
BBC failed to mention ANY positives!
There are so many alternative descriptions or labels the BBC could have given me which would have created a far different impression than ‘former illusionist.’
However, they ignored other aspects of my background. For example, while acknowledging I was a former ‘illusionist,’ there was no mention of me being a long-standing, committed Christian who funds a Christian business network called Training Kings.
There was no mention of me being a philanthropist who believes passionately in giving back. There was no mention whatsoever of the extensive charity work I have carried out over the past few years to bring fresh water to African villages, nor the money I am putting into rebuilding schools in poor areas of Uganda.
In researching the programme, BBC staff would surely have come across a lot of positive online content on that side of my life? Yet all of this was overlooked. I am still only 29 and have already contributed more to charity than some people do in a lifetime.
The BBC would also have come across a documentary (Click Here) and news report about a serious leg injury I suffered in Uganda in 2018 whilst leading a charity mission. I lost a lot of blood and had to undergo major surgery.
Despite this, I insisted that my colleagues should leave me in hospital and continue the work. I have had further surgery on my knee this year in the UK.
I recently returned to Uganda to meet the surgeon and set up a fund for seriously injured people who can’t afford operations. As a result of this money, she has been able to save the limbs of several people involved in accidents. I have been sent several videos of the surgeon testifying to this at the bedside of patients who would otherwise have had their legs amputated. They include a young mother seen sharing her hospital bed with her baby. If this sort of material had been used in the coverage, it would have challenged the image of me which was presented. There is Samuel Leeds and then there is the version of me created by the media who my family and friends don’t recognise.
Why did the BBC fail to interview a single happy student?
For the past year and a half, Property Investors has published weekly, in-depth interviews with different successful students in our Winners on a Wednesday slot on my YouTube channel.
The students featured come from diverse backgrounds, and many say their lives have been transformed through the investment strategies they have learned from us. The BBC did not feature a single one of them which would have offered balance to the reports. Instead, only negative comments were broadcast.
In addition, The Inside Out programme featured a clip of me ‘joking’ about punching people in the throat if they did not subscribe to my YouTube channel. I have made around 800 videos over the past few years, and I very much regret the most unfortunate phrasing in that particular video. It was something said clumsily in jest when spontaneously trying to convey the value of my channel.
The report acknowledged it was a joke, but why then include the clip at all and omit to show any of the positive material I have listed above? Again, I feel it shows a lack of balance in portraying both my character and my business. I feel that a certain storyline was being pursued, and positive material about me did not fit the narrative.
We never make cast iron guarantees
We never make cast iron guarantees that students will get their money back from their first deals. We make very clear what is achievable and publicise the accomplishments of some of our students. We regularly say it doesn’t work for everybody and stress some people will fail.
At every educational establishment – including fee-paying institutions – there are always students who do not succeed. You could pay a lot of money to join a fee-paying drama school, but never make it as an actor, despite your dreams of finding fame and fortune. In contrast, others on the same course might do spectacularly well. All I can do is give people the tools to be successful as an investor in the housing market.
It takes knowledge, skill and endeavour to achieve things in life, in whatever field you choose. Property investing is no different.
Making damaging assumptions without basic research
I would also like to address comments that even questioned my authenticity as a property investor in the lengthier version of the Inside Out investigation broadcast in the Yorkshire area. The TV reporter says that while I claimed to have been financially free through property investing in my early twenties, I ‘appear’ to have been working as a magician until 2014.
She points to a video produced by an entertainment company called Slightly Unusual which shows me performing on stage at the age of 24. The reporter then sarcastically describes this as an ‘interesting sideline for a millionaire property investor.’ The implication is that I depended on other work at that time which is untrue. I need to knock this one on the head because it has been repeated and shared elsewhere.
If the reporter had delved deeper, she would have discovered that Slightly Unusual was an agency co-owned by my brother Russell at the time. He is now CEO of Property Investors. As teenagers we both worked as magicians for my father. In my case this only lasted for a matter of months after I left school at 16.
However, I sometimes helped out the agency with occasional appearances which included some charity events. I enjoyed performing on odd occasions but did not need to do this for financial reasons as my property investing was providing me with an excellent lifestyle. Nobody from the BBC questioned me about my work as a magician.
Why did the BBC fail to check the facts with the ‘magic’ agency?
Craig Petty, the owner of the agency, sent me a letter in answer to the BBC inference that I was unsuccessful in property at the time because I was working as a magician. I don’t believe I need to add much to his comments, which again underline my disappointment with the BBC’s treatment of me. I believe they are guilty of drawing damning conclusions without checking the facts.
Surely even the most junior of reporters would realise that ‘the other side of the story’ needs to be checked out before mere ‘assumptions’ are broadcast to the public? In this example, instead of simply coming to their own conclusions, they could have asked the entertainment agency for the facts. They would have got this response and realised they were way off the mark:
Re: Samuel Leeds
To whom it may concern,
I am the Director of Slightly Unusual and previously the Co-owner of Magic4Hire, the two companies that Samuel Leeds worked for as a magician.
I have noticed with interest that many different TV Programs and online vlogs have published stories about Samuel. Many of these talk about the work he has done with my companies but no body has ever reached out to me directly to discuss Samuel. Because of this I wanted to document the timeframe of exactly when Samuel worked with me and what he did. Hopefully this will stop people guessing.
Samuel’s dad, Ethan, was my business partner and we had an entertainment company together that started in 2005. Ethan wanted Samuel to join the business and introduced me to Samuel when he was still in high school. Samuel left school aged 16 and worked full-time in the company doing gigs around the country and reported to his dad. I really liked Samuel and we spent a lot of time together learning and practicing magic. Sadly, Samuel left after about six months because he wanted to be more involved with his church and told me that he was going to become a property investor instead. I must admit this did sound strange for a teenager to say, but I supported his decision.
I asked Samuel if he would mind continuing work but just on an ad-hoc basis alongside his church work and his newly founded property career. Samuel agreed to do this, but for a higher fee and on the basis that he would cherry pick the shows he wanted to do with no pressure to say yes. This arrangement went on a few years and Samuel did occasional shows alongside his other ventures. Samuel’s property business seemed to take off, but he continued to do shows because he enjoyed performing, however, in 2011 he joined a Bible College in Birmingham and explained to me that it was no longer feasible for him to do any gigs because he simply didn’t have the time.
In 2013, he finished Bible College and his property business had grown by this point. He even owned houses in my street and I was extremely impressed with what he had achieved. I asked him to continue doing shows again since he’d finished Bible college, but he was in a completely different place financially and I knew he didn’t need the money. I managed to get him a little involved for a short while in 2014, but he did this solely for enjoyment and to help me out. He also wanted to be just involved perhaps the larger illusion shows and didn’t want to do any smaller shows. He also was happy to get involved in several charity fund raisers. His last ever show was in 2015 where he told me he didn’t want payment but to donate money into his charity projects in Africa instead.
Samuel has always been honest about being a working class guy and has talked openly about his history as a magician, so it’s bizarre the media would “expose” this as some great secret. I have even seen videos of Samuel on YouTube explaining that he used a magic trick as a way of breaking the ice when he first met his now wife, Amanda in 2014.
I hope this puts a stop to the speculation about Samuels career as a magician. In all honesty Samuel could have had a very successful career as a magician as he is an awesome performer. However he decided to go in a different direction with his career which by all accounts was the right choice. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always considered Samuel a very driven young man.
All of the above is true.
Slightly Unusual Ltd
If you paid £1 for a weekend course would you expect no other ‘sell’
The BBC was critical of our so-called ‘hard sell’ techniques. Of course, there is some ‘sell’ of our fee-paying academy which provides detailed instruction on the strategies available to the property investor. I think it is fair to say people would expect this if they have only paid a £1 booking fee for a two-day introductory crash course packed with valuable information. We are a business with overheads. It costs us about £50,000 to stage each event.
It is important to stress that the majority of people attending the Property Investors Crash Course do not sign up for advanced training or join the academy. In fact a large number of them attend several crash courses without ever going further. They tell me they come back because they enjoy the energy and passion in the room and the opportunity to both participate in and observe live deal exercises. They obviously don’t feel pressurised
They are still made welcome. On my YouTube channel I have even highlighted the success of people who have only ever attended crash courses and never paid us a penny for advanced training.
By far the greatest emphasis at the crash course is on teaching, while selling the merits of the academy takes up a comparatively small amount of time.
How can I pressure sell to people from my own lounge?
During lockdown, I’ve been unable to run physical events and so I’ve put my crash course online as part of the Samuel365 programme. More than two thousand people have already signed up to the online crash course, and we are delighted by how many of them have gone on to opt for more advanced training.
The feedback has been phenomenal. How do I pressure sell to people sitting in their own living rooms who are using the logic of their own brains?
Make up your own mind up. How much fairer could I possibly be? If you pay just £1 for the full online crash course you get SEVEN days of coaching. Then you can decide whether you want to take it further. I won’t be in your living room pointing a gun at your head or trying to work any ‘magic’ on you!
Does our advanced training offer nothing more than the crash course?
In the BBC TV report it was falsely stated that the paid-for elements of our training offer ‘nothing new to students’ than what is taught on the crash course – or is available from watching our videos.
I strongly refute that suggestion. The crash course does cover a lot of ground and includes ‘live-deal’ exercises and demonstrations. But the main focus is on how to make a buy-to-let investment, along with some personal development aspects. Our academy offers far more in-depth teaching of the subject, plus intensive training on five other modules, all of which are only touched on during the crash course. These include Deal Sourcing, Serviced Accommodation, Lease Option Agreements and Rent-to Rent Deals.
It is true that our online videos are informative and often refer to these strategies, but there are hundreds of them. There is nothing that pulls everything together in such a structured or detailed manner as in our advanced training.
Having said that, our advanced training offers so much than is not available anywhere else. Every student will benefit from bespoke one-to-one mentoring, and will receive guidance on legal and compliance matters, as well as having access to the right wording for contracts. They will receive detailed work manuals plus a mountain of other valuable material.
The course is elegantly structured and comprehensive in detail.
BBC claims people without capital cannot profit from property
I strongly oppose the idea that property investing has to be the exclusive domain of the wealthy. I have demonstrated on many occasions that it is possible for anyone to make money from property, even if they have no capital to invest. I have even undertaken financial challenges myself to prove this works.
A great many of my students have made large amounts of money from deal sourcing without having capital to invest. Many have then gone on to use that money to invest in lucrative property deals.
My offer to the BBC
I would be happy to train a BBC reporter in the skills of deal sourcing, a strategy which was also treated with great suspicion in its investigation. I believe I could help him or her to unearth and sell property deals within a week and make a significant profit. If the BBC would like to take up that challenge, any profits made during the week would be given to a charity of its choice. I would be happy for them to film the process too.
This would give me the opportunity to again prove that it is my expertise as a property investor which makes this possible, and NOT my magic skills.
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