Businessmen accused of defrauding vulnerable customers

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TWO businessmen linked to two former north Derbyshire mobility aid firms have been accused of being involved in conspiracies to defraud vulnerable and elderly customers.

An ongoing Leeds Crown Court trial has heard how Vincent Watkinson and Timothy Wright formerly of Compass Mobility, on Derby Road, Clay Cross, and Reo Marketing, of Chesterfield, allegedly committed offences between 2008 and 2010.

Prosecuting barrister Deborah Sherwin claims the two were behind a scam including pressure selling from sales staff who at times allegedly refused to leave customers’ homes for up to four hours.

Other alleged sale methods included false claims to customers about carrying out surveys, that staff were from social services and the sale of unsuitable items incompatible with customers’ needs.

And further alleged practices included misleading customers trying to cancel sales and refusing cancellations and at Compass allegedly failing to outline finance agreements and total bills.

Ms Sherwin said: “People were conned and lied to and were sold unsuitable items.

“Elderly people were talked in to paying an astronomical mark-up.

“It was endemic - spreading throughout at all levels.”

The defendants, who were former Compass directors, claim they were consultants with Reo but Ms Sherwin claims it was the same company as Compass but operating under a different name to shake off trading standards.

She added: “The defendants have spent their lives being salesmen and this trial could be the biggest sale of their lives because they’re trying to sell themselves as innocent men.”

Defence barrister Paul O’Shay, representing Watkinson, said the original failure lies with company sales representatives and it was made worse by the disorganised response of the company but this did not mean Watkinson was guilty of defrauding customers.

Mr O’Shay said: “There was no conspiracy or agreement between himself and anyone else. There was no conspiracy to defraud people.

“It was disorganisation in the extreme. It might have been a shambles but that does not make it a conspiracy.”

Defence barrister Simon Thomas, representing Wright, told the jury it could not be sure that there was a dishonest plan in place.

He argued initial phone calls to customers were a way of filtering customers and sales scripts explain that salesmen should say they are from a private company and not say they are from any other body.

Watkinson, 51, of Boythorpe Road, Chesterfield, and Wright, 47, of Goldcrest Drive, Spondon, Derby, have each pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud with Compass and each pleaded not guilty to another count of conspiracy to defraud with Reo.

The case continues.