A car dealer who turned a blind eye to misleading adverts and selling dangerous cars on the internet is ordered to pay nearly £10,000 by Truro magistrates.
Following a two day trial the previous week, on 19 October 2016 Truro Magistrates found Jacqueline Hall of Scorrier Vehicle Sales near Redruth guilty of offences relating to advertising cars which were not in the condition described and an instance where a vehicle was found to be in a dangerous condition, despite being available for sale.
The offences took place between January and July 2015, four of which involved the advertising of various cars on a website, describing them as;
- in excellent condition,
- driving very well,
- in lovely overall condition, and
- with a new MoT.
Following an investigation by Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards Officers, Ms Hall, the sole proprietor of the business, faced 8 charges under consumer protection legislation. One of these charges related to a vehicle which had been sold to a consumer in February 2015. In an online advertisement it had been described as being “in excellent condition, drives very well”, when in fact it was in a very poor state, with corrosion that was so severe that the rear axle collapsed a few months after purchase.
The initial complaint led Cornwall Council Trading Standards Officers to carry out an inspection at the premises where a sample of other vehicles were examined. One of the cars inspected was found to be in a dangerous condition, with power steering fluid leaking over the wheel; whilst others were missing engine parts or exhibiting faults that would constitute MOT failures. The online advertisements for these vehicles used phrases such as “lovely condition, drives well”, despite clearly being displayed for sale in a very poor state.
Whilst a large proportion of the vehicles sold by Scorrier Vehicle Sales were at lower end of the market, regardless of the price of a vehicle, they must be displayed and sold in a safe and roadworthy condition.
Summing up the magistrates' verdict, chairman James Slater spoke of one instance in which a woman had been "enticed" to the garage by the website advert and paid £695 for a Ford Ka. The Ka had broken down and was described by a mechanic as being in a dangerous condition, and unsafe to drive. When the customer contacted the garage she was refused a refund.
Mr Slater said Hall had been unconvincing as a witness and had not stood up under cross-examination. In her defence it had been said that none of the advertised cars would have left the forecourt without a MoT, including the "dangerous" vehicle which would have been tested before purchase.
Mr Slater said the magistrates found that Hall was in a position of authority but had turned a blind eye to what was happening. Hall sought to pass the blame to her employees who had placed the adverts. However she took no reasonable precautions and failed to provide the necessary oversight to ensure effective checks were carried out and that advertisements were honest and truthful. She also failed to deal appropriately with the consumer’s original complaint, despite it being clear that a dangerous vehicle had been sold.
The website advertisements would have enticed potential customers to the garage and encouraged an average consumer to take a transactional decision which he or she would not have taken otherwise.
David Campbell, for Hall, said she had taken over the business in 2012 because the previous owner was not in a position to continue running it.
The court case had put the business in jeopardy. It only made ends meet, employing five full-time and two part-time staff. It sold 500 cars a year of which seven had been involved in the court case.
Hall, he said, who took £100 a week from the business, had not sought to deceive the public. Lessons since had been learned about the nature and extent of their advertising, resulting in no more investigations by trading standards officers.
Hall, he added, had been out of her depth. She did not properly and consistently oversee what staff had been doing, through trust, convenience or laziness. It had not been a question of aggressive selling, targeting vulnerable people.
Hall was fined £500, told to pay a victim surcharge of £20 and prosecution costs of £8,290.51.
She was also ordered to pay £640 in compensation after the magistrates heard this was the amount the buyer of the Ford Ka was out of pocket when it sold for £55 for scrap.
A Facebook group which has been set up called Scorrier Vehicle Sales Rogue Traders states that it is "for people is being ripped off by" and has 361 members.
And at least a dozen people have written about bad experiences with the dealership on the Car Dealer Watchdog website.