News item

Two mobility aid criminals jailed

TSI - leading the trading standards professionTwo former directors of Compass Mobility Limited, who were found guilty in July of four counts of consipracy to defraud, in a case brought by Scambusters, were sentenced on Friday 3 August.

Vincent Andrew Watkinson (aged 51) of Bythorpe Road, Chesterfield  and Timothy Leonard Herbert Wright (aged 47) of Goldcrest Road, Sponden were each sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Both had pleaded not guilty but were found guilty at an earlier hearing. Both were banned from being company directors for 15 years.

Sentenced was adjourned until 1 October 2012 for their fellow director John Alexander Higginson (aged 63) to take legal advice. Higginson had pleaded guilty to a range of offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations at an earlier hearing.  

The offences related to the sales of mobility aids to elderly, infirm and vulnerable people society. Examples included:

•    Targeting those in their ‘80s and ‘90s including one woman approaching her 100th birthday and suffering a variety of ailments Remaining in customer’s houses for lengthy periods of time – often for four hours – even after they had been asked to leave
•    Selling a motorized scooter to a man who was registered blind and has uncontrolled epilepsy
•    Selling an inflatable bath lift  – called a Bath Buddy –to a woman who was blind and unable to operate it
•    Signing people up to finance agreements which were unaffordable, and then refusing to cancel them, claiming it was too late to do so and even when the customers did not even know they were entering into the arrangement
•    Complaints logged by the company were made known to directors who generally ignored them.

Over the period of investigation – 2007-2010 – hundreds of enquiries and complaints were recorded against the company. Many complaints were received after the directors were arrested in February 2009 and they related to goods valued in excess of £1 million.  

The directors will now be subject to an investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate the assets they have acquired as a result of their criminal conduct.

Scambuster teams have been established to tackle rogue trading practices that operate across local authority boundaries. This was one such investigation involving the assistance of trading standards officers in West Yorkshire, Hull, Sheffield, Rotherham, East Riding, Doncaster, York, Derbyshire and elsewhere as well as Derbyshire Police, The Regional Asset Recovery Team, Companies Investigation Branch and The Insolvency Service. The prosecution was assisted with significant funding from the Office of Fair Trading.

Colin Rumford, Head of Public Protection at City of York Council and spokesperson for Yorkshire and the Humber Trading Standards Scambuster Team said: “These crimes were not committed by ‘rogue’ members of the sales team. The sales practices were embedded in the company’s procedures and training regimes and several former members of staff provided evidence to trading standards detailing these practices.”

The Chair of the National Trading Standards Board, David Collinson, commented: “It is totally unacceptable that any business should seek to exploit vulnerable people in our communities. Consumers and carers should heed the warning arising from this investigation. Don’t be bullied into buying something you don’t need – be prepared to say no.”

Anyone who has been a victim of an unfair trading practice or who knows of anyone who has been exploited by a rogue trader can help Scambusters take action against those responsible. Please contact your local Trading Standards Department or the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 040506.


Notes to editors:

1.    The Yorkshire & Humber Trading Standards Group Scambuster team are a specialist trading standards service operated by City of York Council on behalf of the 11 trading standards services in the Yorkshire and the Humber regions.  The team is tasked with uncovering scams and rogue trading practices that operative across local authority boundaries. There are eight Scambuster teams operating throughout the UK. Further details are available from the following link.

2.    This is one of a number of scams the Yorkshire and the Humber team, funded by the National Trading Standards Board, have uncovered since it was established in 2008.

For further information please contact Colin Rumford Head of Public Protection at City of York Council and member of the Yorkshire & the Humber Trading Standards Group Scambuster team, on 01904 551502.

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 has been set up by the Government to improve enforcement of laws intended to tackle rogue traders operating both regionally and nationally and who cause harm to consumers and legitimate businesses.

Contact : Wendy Martin 07982 418423,  David Collinson 01603 222253