Furniture boss who left customers £80k out of pocket convicted by jury
PUBLISHED: 15:43 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:34 31 October 2019
The director of a Suffolk based mobility furniture company accused of leaving elderly and disabled customers £80,000 out of pocket has been convicted of fraudulent trading by a jury.
Judge Emma Peters told David Waters he had been convicted on "compelling evidence" and said she was considering sending him to prison.
Judge Peters paid tribute to Suffolk Trading Standards officers, particularly Stuart Hughes who led the investigation, for their "hard work and tenacity" during the investigation, which involved speaking to Anchor Mobility customers from all over the country.
More than 20 customers paid David Waters, who was the sole director of Anchor Mobility Ltd, furniture including reclining chairs, sofas and beds they never received, Ipswich Crown Court was told.
Waters, 71, of Manwick Road, Felixstowe, and his company Anchor Mobility Limited had denied a string of unfair trading offences brought following an investigation by Suffolk Trading Standards.
Waters denied fraudulent trading by taking payment without delivering goods, pressurising customers to make purchases, and failing to issue refunds between October 2016 and August 2017.
Waters and Anchor Mobility denied engaging in an unfair commercial practice which contravened requirements of professional diligence between October 2016 and August 2017.
The company and Waters also denied 13 offences of being engaged in misleading commercial practices by failing to fulfil representations that furniture would be delivered to customers within an agreed time period.
The jury found Waters and the company guilty by unanimous verdicts on these charges.
Waters will be sentenced on December 19.
Waters and the company also denied failing to refund money to a customer in March 2017 and the jury returned an 11-1 majority guilty verdict on this charge.
Mr Hughes said after the case: "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."
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."
During the trial John Goulding, prosecuting, claimed pressure was put on elderly and disabled customers by the company's salesmen who would stay at their homes for up to four hours and closed deals when they were tired.
On one occasion a customer was told the deal was time limited and customers who changed their minds or didn't receive their furniture never received refunds.
The court heard that more than 20 customers were left £82,000 out of pocket as a result of their dealings with Anchor Mobility.
Mr Goulding told the jury that Waters had previously run a similar business called Mobility UK Ltd and in 2013 he and the company had pleaded guilty to several offences under consumer protection and unfair trading regulations.
"These offences show that Mr Waters has a propensity to commit these type of offences," he said.
Mr Goulding claimed that after Mobility UK Ltd, Waters had run two more similar businesses - UK Mobility Direct and Westminster Recliners - and had taken out a £300,000 loan from a finance company.
Mr Goulding claimed that between January 2017 and August 2017 Anchor Mobility repaid £132,000 of the £300,000 loan while taking deposits from Anchor Mobility customers.
"Over a significant period when money was being received by Anchor from customers, David Waters through Anchor bank accounts was repaying the debts of Westminster Recliners Ltd," said Mr Goulding.
He said another of Waters' companies had leased premises in Summit Business Park in Felixstowe and had run up £20,000 rent arrears.
Giving evidence during the trial Waters said company salesmen were made to follow guidelines when meeting potential clients and never cold called customers.
He said the guidelines and principles were put in place by him because he wanted customers to be treated like "family members".
Waters added that all his salesmen carried identification cards.
Asked by Gareth Hughes, defending, if he ever took an order believing that he would not be able to fulfil it, Waters replied: "No, I didn't."
Waters also denied ever pressurising customers into purchases or instructing salesmen to put pressure on clients to buy products.