Four and a half year prison sentence for Warwickshire time share fraudster
Andrew Stephen Harris the director of Warwickshire based Shakespeare Classic Line Ltd has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison after earlier being found guilty of defrauding his customers.
Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service took the successful prosecution after receiving complaints from across the UK.
His Honour, Judge Alan Parker, presiding, said that Harris and another director David Keith Evans had been running a “fraud factory” from their base in Hatton, near Warwick, “where victims were processed in industrial quantities.”
Many customers asked whether the product was timeshare and were told it was not. This denial was described by Judge Parker as “a calculated lie”. He further commented that “Pressure and coercion was the most disturbing (aspect) of this systematically criminal conduct.”
No sales were made after the law changed to require cancellation rights and Judge Parker said: “It emphasises the so called product had no commercial value and was recognised as such by Mr Harris. The company never sought to sell the product on the basis of having any commercial attraction at all unless supported by and associated with numerous untruths.”
Janet Faulkner, Head of Warwickshire Trading Standards said: “This has been a long and complicated prosecution for Warwickshire Trading Standards, but we are delighted with the outcome. The handing down of a custodial sentence sends a strong warning to fraudsters that their activities will not be tolerated in Warwickshire.
“Our Trading Standards Service will continue to work to protect consumers and genuine businesses.”
At Warwickshire Justice Centre, Leamington Spa, on Thursday 21st November 2013 Andrew Stephan Harris was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for the offence of fraudulent trading, with concurrent 15 month sentences for each of 10 offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. He was disqualified from acting as a company director for 5 years. Harris’ co-director David Keith Evans was sentenced to 21 months (suspended for 2 years) for fraudulent trading and 9 months for each of 5 consumer protection offences, to run concurrently, and a requirement to complete 250 hours of unpaid work. He was disqualified from acting as a company director for 2 years.
The pair had run a company which used high pressure and misleading sales presentations to persuade people to enter in to contracts for interests in two yachts moored in Turkey.
Customers were promised a free holiday, but after hours of high pressure selling, they went away having paid thousands of pounds for one week a year on a small yacht in Turkey.
Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service brought the prosecution after receiving complaints from consumers across the UK, many of whom had paid approximately £10,000 each and agreed to pay maintenance fees of £399 per annum, increasing by up to 10 per cent per year.
At Leamington Justice Centre on Tuesday 11 June 2013, Shakespeare Classic Line Ltd, and its directors Andrew Stephen Harris and David Keith Evans were found guilty of fraudulent trading following a jury trial. Shakespeare Classic Line Ltd and Andrew Harris were also found guilty of 10 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations offences and David Evans of five such offences.
His Honour, Judge Alan Parker, presiding, commended Warwickshire Trading Standards Service’s investigation into ‘something which had become a complete and utter nightmare for respectable people’.
Consumers were often cold called and told that they had ‘won’ a holiday or that they were entitled to receive a free holiday, which was nothing to do with timeshare, to encourage them to attend presentations at the Hatton (Warwick) premises of Shakespeare Classic Line where they would be told about a new way of holidaying. This however was a lie.
In reality, there was no prize draw, the holiday offered was not free and required consumers to attend further timeshare presentations whilst on holiday. Those who attended the presentations at Hatton were subjected to high pressured ‘timeshare style’ sales pitches often lasting over four hours.
The intensive sales pitches were used to convince consumers that they would be making an ‘investment’ by agreeing to purchase a 1/200th share in a yacht. They were told this would either be self-financing or it would cost them nothing or it would enable them to make a profit. This was untrue.
Consumers were told they could either holiday on the yacht for one week a year for 25 years or receive income from it by allowing Shakespeare Classic Line Ltd to rent out their week (which they claimed they could almost always do) or they could exchange their week through membership of a holiday exchange company, Interval International.
In reality, consumers were lied to about the benefits of the product, the price they would pay and the rental returns they would receive. Any up-front payment they were told they would receive was taken from the cost of buying in to the scheme, leaving most consumers paying around £10,000 each for a share in a yacht, plus a £399 a year maintenance charge which could go up by up to 10% per year. Further, the business was not able to rent out their week on the yacht for the prices they had promised so almost no ‘profit’ was derived this way.
Consumers were required to make a decision there and then and were not given the opportunity to take away contract documents to consider them before deciding whether to go ahead with the deal.
Some consumers were told untruthfully that if they wished to sell their share the company would be obliged to sell their share at the next presentation. In other cases, the price was manipulated so that ‘discounts’ offered, for example for purchasing timeshare a consumer already owned, were not discounts at all, but resulted in consumers paying a similar price to others who had not been offered the discounts.
Putting aside all the small print, lies and high pressure sales talk, what the customers of Shakespeare Classic line were actually agreeing to buy was one week a year for 25 years in a cabin on a small shared yacht moored in Turkey. They paid around £10,000 and would be likely to get back only a small fraction of this when the yacht was sold in 25 years’ time. Maintenance fees of £399 could increase to around £3,000 per year by the end of 25 years. This was then used by Andrew Harris to try to persuade some consumers who had purchased shares to pay more money to upgrade to another timeshare product, apartments in Cape Verde. This was offered on the promise that consumers would only be committed for 10 years and the management fee would be fixed.
The company is due to be sentenced ollowing the conclusion of confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Consumers can contact Warwickshire Trading Standards Service via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06
1) A number of victims are willing to speak to the press. For more information, please contact Simon Cripwell on 01926 414039 or 07771 975570
2) Tony Watkin represented the Prosecution
3) Philip Evans represented Andrew Harris and Shakespeare Classic Line Ltd
4) Michael Davies represented David Evans.
DATE: 25 November 2013