Scambusters: two rogue car dealers sent to prison
Two motor traders who operated from a used car site in Yeovil were sentenced at Bristol Crown Court today (21 February 2012) for offences of fraud, possession of firearms and operating without a consumer credit licence.
Peter Firth, who has operated as used car dealer under a variety of business names in Yeovil for nearly twenty years, and Gerald White, who was described by His Honour Judge Ticehurst as Firth’s ‘front man’, had already pleaded guilty in November of last year at Taunton Crown Court.
This follows an investigation led by the South West Scambusters Team, a specialist Trading Standards team investigating cross-border consumer offending regionally on behalf of the 15 authorities in the South West, or nationally as directed by the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB). The investigation followed numerous complaints being received by Somerset Trading Standards and by the police concerning the sale of vehicles from Houndstone Car Centre, Lufton Way, Yeovil and the financial arrangements customers were required to enter into.
Peter Firth, of Hardington Moor, Yeovil, pleaded guilty to one charge of engaging in an activity requiring a consumer credit licence when not a licensee and two charges of having in his possession a firearm disguised as another object. This related to two stun guns disguised as mobile phones that were found in his van at Houndstone Car Centre on 20 April 2010, when the South West Scambusters Team, supported by Avon and Somerset Police and Somerset Trading Standards, executed a warrant at the premises.
Firth was sentenced to a total of three years imprisonment, comprising two years for the firearms offences and one year for trading without a consumer credit licence.
Gerald White, of Tintinhull, Yeovil, pleaded guilty to the same charge of failing to have a consumer credit licence when engaging in an activity that required a licence, and also to two charges of fraud involving the sale of particular cars, contrary to Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006.
White was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, comprising six months for trading without a consumer credit licence and six months on each of the fraud charges, the latter to run concurrently.
Both Firth and White were disqualified from being company directors for eight years.
Cash in excess of £3,800 seized at the time of the arrests was ordered to be paid in compensation to four victims, who had purchased cars and provided evidence to the investigation.
Passing sentence, His Honour Judge Ticehurst commented that both men were ‘rogue car dealers’, who took advantage of customers’ lack of funds, and who showed callousness in repossessing cars.
Firth and White have operated together since 2007 as car traders under a variety of trading names and companies, including Abbey Manor Car Sales, Stourton Way Cars Ltd, P&G Vehicle Sales Ltd, Houndstone Car Centre Ltd and a host of other names in the Yeovil area for almost 20 years, attracting many complaints.
They specialised in selling old and relatively cheap vehicles to consumers who found difficulty in obtaining credit. They would allow their customers to purchase vehicles on credit terms of £100 per month. However, they did not provide the consumer with the correct documentation and neither did they hold the necessary consumer credit licence, as required by the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
They would enforce payment by use of threats and intimidation, which meant that victims were reluctant to come forward. They routinely retained both a key to the vehicle sold and the registration document and MoT Certificate. Some victims reported that vehicles they had bought from them were taken back again without their knowledge or agreement and for no good reason, often with their personal belongings inside, which were not returned. Firth and White then sold their vehicles on again.
Examples of their unscrupulous practices include:
- Taking payments of over £2,000 for two vehicles, both of which were snatched back without any warning, resulting in personal possessions worth many hundreds of pounds being taken.
- Agreed prices being inflated by the addition of an ‘admin’ fee.
- Two intimidating men being used to repossess the car belonging to a lone female. Even though she was present she was not allowed to remove her possessions from her car, which were never returned.
- Car tax that had been promised was never received. When the purchaser questioned this White snatched the keys and offered to fight the purchaser. The purchaser lost the car and never received the refund for the £500 he had already paid.
- A purchaser, who had paid £1,200 of the purchase price of £1,400, left the car and £102 to be for it taxed. It was not returned as agreed and, when he visited the site, he saw his car for sale on the forecourt for £1,300 - still with the old tax disc displayed.
- Firth’s business sold a car that still had outstanding credit on it. This resulted in the finance company trying to recover the car and the new owners paying a large sum to the finance company.
Victims were identified in Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset, Devon and Wiltshire.
Stephen Meale of Bristol City Council, which hosts the South West Scambusters Team, commented: ‘This is a shocking example of two dishonest car dealers, who for many years have shown a blatant disregard for the law and consumers’ rights in order to rip off consumers, who can ill afford it, and who have used oppressive and intimidating tactics to enforce their will and discourage victims from complaining to the appropriate authorities. It is just this sort of rogue trading that Scambusters was set up to tackle and I trust that the significant custodial sentences handed down today will serve as a warning for the minority of car traders who act in such a way.’
The NTSB brings together trading standards experts from services across England and Wales to prioritise, fund and coordinate national and regional enforcement cases. It is responsible for gathering intelligence from around the country to combat rogue traders and tackle priorities such as internet scams, illegal money lending and other issues that go beyond local authority boundaries.
For more information about this case contact the SW Regional Scambusters office on 0117 3521233 or to speak to the National Trading Standards Board regarding a more general enquiry please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office on 0845 6089430 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board was established by the Government to improve the enforcement of laws intended to tackle rogue traders operating both regionally and nationally who are causing harm to consumers and legitimate businesses. The NTSB also issues grants and funds national and regional initiatives such as the Illegal Money Lending Teams, Safety at Ports and the National Trading Standards eCrime Centre.
Scambusters is a NTSB funded project aimed at targeting rogue trading and scams across England and Wales, supporting all local authority areas in England and Wales. There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.