Prison for mobility aid company director
After pleading guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations at an earlier hearing, former director of Compass Mobility Limited John Alexander Higginson (aged 63), of Locko Road, Lower Pilsley ,Chesterfield was today sentenced to a total of 2 years imprisonment.
Prior to sentencing His Honour Judge Marson heard mitigation which acknowledged the activities of the company were shameful and predatory. He stated that the court had a duty to protect elderly and infirm consumers who were particularly vulnerable from the consequences of the neglect of directors. During the trial he had heard that clients were subjected to pressure selling and failure to return deposits. Theses activities had caused particular distress to the individuals and their families and should be dealt with accordingly.
Two of his fellow directors in Compass Mobility Limited had previously been sentenced to periods of imprisonment, having been convicted of conspiracy to defraud the customers of Compass and a ‘phoenix company’, Reo Marketing Limited:
Vincent Andrew Watkinson (aged 51) of Bythorpe Road, Chesterfield :- five years
Timothy Leonard Herbert Wright (aged 47) of Goldcrest Road, Sponden:- five years
Both were banned from being company directors for 15 years.
All 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.
Over the period of investigation – 2007-2009 - hundreds of enquiries and complaints were recorded against the company.
Higginson was arrested in February 2009, but following this he failed to take adequate steps to ensure that the company was being properly run and Trading Standards Departments continued to receive complaints. Higginson pleaded guilty to 10 specimen offences: seven concerning the failure to return deposits to customers who had legitimately cancelled their agreements; two offences concerning the failure to either explain the terms of a credit agreement to a customer or the signing up of the customer to a credit agreement when they did not appreciate that they had signed a credit application. The final offence he admitted involved a salesman refusing to leave an elderly person’s home despite being repeatedly asked to do so. In the end the customer signed the agreement to get the salesman out of her home.
The prosecution was brought by the Yorkshire and Humber Trading Standards Group’s Scambuster Team with assistance from trading standards officers in Derbyshire, West Yorkshire, Hull, Sheffield, Rotherham, East Riding, Doncaster and City of York Council York, as well as Derbyshire Police, the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team, Companies Investigation Branch, the Insolvency Service and 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: “Although Compass Mobility Limited was apparently not set up with the intention of defrauding customers, it quickly developed a range of trading practices that were intended to mislead, confuse and con the most vulnerable people in our communities. The sentencing of Higginson finally draws a line under Compass’s disgraceful activities.”
Councillor Dafydd Williams, cabinet member for Crime and Stronger Communities at City of York Council said: “The ease with which the directors of Compass Mobility Limited were able to set up and trade without any form of vetting or licensing is of great cause for concern. Older and vulnerable people deserve a greater degree of protection and the government should look to strengthening legislation to prevent this sort widespread abuse in the future.”
David Collinson, Chair of the National Trading Standards Board, commented: “Rogue businesses that operate across local authority boundaries will continue to be sought out and dealt with by our specialist teams dealing with cross border fraud. We will continue to strengthen our ability to identify and tackle these rogues who prey on vulnerable people. Anyone who thinks they may have been approached by a rogue trader or pressurised to buy something they don’t want should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau helpline on 08454 040506.”
Notes to editors:
1. The Yorkshire & the 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 region. 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. http://berr.gov.uk/policies/consumer-issues/enforcement-of-consumer-law/trading-standards/scambuster-teams
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