A team of fraudulent used car salesman who threatened to break the legs of one complaining customer and told another that it would “strangle” Trading Standards officers have avoided jail.
William Bernard Drinkwater, aged 42, of Riddings Lane, Northwich; Peter Alan Coulton aged 41, of Welwyn Close, Warrington; Dominic Jones, aged 25, of Harrison Close, Warrington; and Matthew James Amery, aged 38, of St John’s Avenue, Northwich ran a firm operating from Knutsford Road in Latchford.
They were found guilty of fraudulent trading at Chester Crown Court on September 2 after an investigation by Warrington Trading Standards revealed the extent of the “misery, stress and financial problems” caused to a string of victims.
The investigation was commissioned by the National Tasking Group, part of National Trading Standards, which proactively tasks work around priority areas and considers requests for support that come via trading standards regional tasking groups, National Trading Standards Teams and other enforcement agencies.
The court heard that the men were responsible for selling cars with a range of mechanical faults, making misleading claims about mileage and warranties, using misleading business paperwork and threatening consumers who tried to complain.
Drinkwater and Coulton had both previously been prosecuted for similar offences by Warrington Trading Standards, and Jones - in his capacity of Director of Trade Center Warrington Ltd - had signed a written undertaking at Court to improve the businesses practices.
Amery played a much smaller role in the operation.
Chester Crown Court heard how one female victim of the used car operation told the men that she would report them to Trading Standards and was told: "Go on then, and I'll strangle them, and throw them in the canal."
Another consumer, during one of his calls to the dealership to chase up a refund, was told that someone would be sent to his home to “break his legs”.
The purchase price of vehicles in the case totalled £71,773, of which the financial losses to the complainants were £15,071.68.
In addition the victim impact statements read out at sentencing revealed that some customers had experienced physical and mental health problems as a result of their experiences.
Drinkwater created three companies throughout 2016 – Tradecentre Warrington Ltd, Trade Center Warrington Limited, Jct 19 Car Centre Limited and National Car Credit Ltd – all operating from 280 Knutsford Road.
The different company names were aimed at confusing consumers who wanted to report vehicle faults and deliberately designed to obscure the identity of the trader, Warrington Trading Standards said.
Drinkwater, who pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading and participation in a fraudulent business, was jailed for 20 months suspended for two years.
He must complete 200 hours of unpaid work, complete 20 days of rehabilitation activity requirement and is disqualified from being a director for 10 years.
Drinkwater must also pay £14,127.26 in financial compensation to 14 complainants.
Coulton, who admitted fraudulent trading, was jailed for 15 months suspended for 12 months and must complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
He is disqualified from being a director for 10 years. He must also pay £2,000 toward consumer compensation.
Jones, who pleaded guilty to unfair commercial practice and aggressive commercial practice was given a four month sentence suspended for 18 months along with a 12 month community order with 100 hours unpaid work and 20 days of rehabilitation activity requirement.
A director’s disqualification for Jones is active for five years.
Amery, who admitted consent in an unfair commercial practice, was handed a 12 month community order with 35 days of rehabilitation activity requirement.
He is disqualified from being a director for five years.
Warrington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for environment and public protection, Cllr Judith Guthrie, said: “The shameful actions of these men caused a great deal of misery, stress and financial problems for a number of people.
“These convictions, following a meticulous, dedicated investigation from trading standards officers, is great news for all of those who fell victim to these individuals’ aggressive and criminal practices.
“We do all we can to protect the public against traders who would seek to deceive and defraud them. The successful prosecution of these men has brought an end to their fraudulent activities and sends out a clear message that we will always use the full weight of the law to bring such people to justice.
“I am pleased that we have been able to secure financial compensation for the victims, and that these men have been disqualified from serving as directors of any company for a number of years.”
Lord Toby Harris, the chairman of National Trading Standards, said: “These sentences show that crime does not pay and I’m delighted that the victims in this case will receive financial compensation.
“If you or someone you know suspects a group or business is engaged in fraudulent trading, we urge you to report them by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.”