Director of mobility chair business who misled vulnerable customers found guilty
A Suffolk business and its director failed to fulfil orders and refused to refund customers.
They have been successfully prosecuted by Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards for a total of 31 offences.
David Waters (71 of Manwick Road, Felixstowe), sole director of Anchor Mobility Limited, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court for a three week trial, starting on Thursday 10 October 2019.
The jury were unanimous in finding Anchor Mobility Ltd and Mr Waters guilty on 30 counts, and by a majority of eleven to one on the remaining count. The sentencing hearing will be on 19 December 2019.
He was found guilty of offences including fraudulent trading under the Companies Act 2006, engaging in unfair commercial practices, multiple offences of misleading consumers by taking large deposits with the promise of delivering goods without doing so and failing to refund consumers under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
On announcing the verdict, Judge Peters said:
“I am very much considering sending you to prison. You dealt with elderly, vulnerable and in some cases disabled people and you frankly swindled tens of thousands of pounds from them.”
Anchor Mobility Limited was a business set up to supply bespoke armchairs and beds targeting elderly and disabled consumers. One customer paid over £8,000 for two beds, which were never delivered, and no refund was ever received.
Waters had been involved in two previous companies which supplied similar products that were prosecuted by Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards.
In 2013, he pleaded guilty to nine consumer protection offences as a result of his involvement in Mobility UK Limited. He was sentenced to a financial penalty and was ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution. In 2015, Westminster Recliners Limited pleaded guilty to engaging in an aggressive commercial practice, Waters had been their company secretary but had all offences against him dropped.
Regarding the latest prosecution, Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards received several calls in relation to Anchor Mobility Ltd and accumulated 26 witnesses, an indication of the scale of this operation. It is calculated that the loss to customers is around £82,000. However, it is likely that many other people have made payments to Anchor Mobility Limited and not received their goods.
Stuart Hughes, the Senior Trading Standards Officer who led the case, said:
“Many of the customers involved were elderly, vulnerable and suffering serious illnesses or disabilities.
“They paid money in good faith, often up front, for furniture intended to improve their quality of life. Instead they received no goods, no refunds, poor customer service and further empty promises.
“Anchor Mobility Limited and David Waters owed their customers a special duty of care, but instead caused vulnerable people great stress, anger and financial loss that they could ill afford.”
Local businesses also lost out to Anchor Mobility Limited, who built up a debt of over £20,000 for lease or rental payments over a six-month period. Waters and his business were eventually locked out of their offices as a result. Furniture manufacturers also suffered by not being paid for products they had made, or lost time which was set aside for production.
Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Environment and Public Protection, said:
“I am in disbelief that David Waters and his business thought it acceptable to mislead customers and abuse their position of power. Hearing the accounts of some of those who have suffered has been genuinely heart-breaking.
“I am grateful to our Trading Standards officers and partner agencies for bringing them to justice and safeguarding vulnerable residents, not just in Suffolk but across the country. Their actions also help to create a level playing field for honest traders and help to protect the legitimate economy of our county and beyond.”
The case was supported by the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team (East of England, London & South East). The Chair, Andrew Clooney, said:
“Our project is pleased once again to have been able to offer investigational evidence gathering assistance, together with expert witness and other vital support to Suffolk Trading Standards Officers with this complicated and protracted investigation.
“This has been a long and complex investigation, and a particularly nasty scam actively targeting elderly and often vulnerable people, in their own homes. Collaboration between local authority Trading Standards services and regional assets such as the Regional Investigation Teams highlights the value and success of partnership working.”
If you are planning a significant purchase or hiring a trader, follow these simple steps:
- Don’t engage with people offering services at your door
- Don’t go with the first quote or offer
- Don’t pay up front for goods or services
- Don’t be pressured into signing anything, ask to sleep on it
- Do ask friends and family for recommendations
- Do get multiple quotes for goods and services for comparison
- Do pay by credit card for extra protection
- Do have friends or family present if inviting someone into your home
- It is a criminal offence if a trader does not leave your home when asked
If you’re concerned about services, goods or products that you have agreed to or purchased on the doorstep, advice is on hand from the national Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.