In July last year I decided to change my car. The vehicle in use at the time was a much-loved, but ageing, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sport. It carried a highly distinctive personalised registration plate that made it readily recognisable. Too easily, on occasions, as it turned out.
The decision was made to buy a much more workmanlike, largely anonymous mode of transport that was suited to some of the covert work I am asked to carry out as an investigative journalist.
Economy and ecology, of course, were also factors in the final decision.
The car chosen was a relatively low mileage, mass produced Vauxhall saloon in a charcoal grey colour with tinted windows. Full service history and with, it appeared from the garage’s advertisement on the Auto Trader website, just one owner. In the Eco-Flex diesel model range with zero road tax, low insurance cost and high fuel economy, it fitted the requirements very well. There was also the benefit of a 3 month warranty provided by the dealer.
A part exchange deal was agreed over the telephone with the Sales Manager, “Jim” at Burnage Motors Limited, an independent car sales outlet in Bredbury, on the outskirts of Stockport. It turned out that “Jim” was not his real name, but more of that later.
The following day I drove the Mercedes to Burnage Motors and a deal, on slightly amended terms, was done. I said goodbye to ‘Betsy’ and, after completing debit card payment, tax, insurance and cherished number retention formalities, drove away from Bredbury in the Vauxhall.
That, I thought would turn out to be the end of my dealings with Burnage. I had bought hundreds of fleet vehicles in my time as a senior corporate executive, and over 20 as a private car buyer, and this was just another run of the mill purchase, smoothly transacted. Or, so it seemed.
But how wrong can one be? Very, very mistaken in this particular case. The dishonest conduct of Burnage Motors Ltd and its sole registered officer at Companies House, Mujahid “Jez” Jamil, has spawned a nightmare experience of three County Court claims and a vexed encounter with the ineffective, inefficient and discourteous Trading Standards Department of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council whose strapline should, in my submission, read “Reasons Not To”.
In the first of the three court claims I have issued against Burnage Motors, judgment has already been given in my favour and the defendant has, very reluctantly, paid out in full. But only after I threatened that bailiffs would attend their premises with a warrant. That claim concerned payment for an electrical fault with the rear windscreen wipers and dishonest communications made by “Jez” over the V5c registration certificate and a V62 application form. Jez lied continually in SMS messages about both and then asked me not to contact him further, once I had discovered the truth by contacting the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency directly and then submitted a V62, including the fee.
Another purchaser, a doctor, has had a similar experience and posted this review on-line at a location called Car Dealer Reviews as recently as last December:
When the vehicle registration certificate eventually arrived from DVLA it showed TWO previous owners, not ONE as described in the Auto Trader advertisement and, subsequently, asserted by both Jim and Jez. on their premises.
It very much appeared that I had been duped and the Trading Standards Department at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council were contacted, via the Citizens Advice Bureau (the accepted gateway on-line), on 23rd October, 2019 seeking intervention from them as arbiters of first resort.
It is a moot point now, but I would not have purchased the vehicle had it been revealed at the time that it had two previous owners, not one. A point made to the CAB in my submissions to them.
The reduction in value of the vehicle was estimated by ‘experts’ to be £300 and I politely requested, by email, that such sum be repaid by Burnage as remedy for the breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. No response was received.
The Vauxhall was sold with the benefit of three months’ warranty, as stated in the description of the vehicle on the AutoTrader website. Three defects became apparent during that warranty period. Two of them minor, one potentially more serious: The first, an electrical fault affecting the rear windscreen wipers, was dealt with by way of the first County Court claim. The others; an issue with the electrically-controlled driver’s seat and a seriously worrying paintwork issue affecting the rear nearside quarter of the vehicle and rear bumper, were notified to both Burnage and Trading Standards. The latter as an ‘intelligence’ matter.
As was now becoming routine, neither Burnage, Jez nor Jim responded, at all, to the correspondence regarding the defects. This included time-stamped photographs of the peeling paintwork. Their collective heads were buried in the sand. Meantime, a comprehensive response was received from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (“CAB”) and provided helpful pointers in terms of resolving the dispute. I have, largely, followed their advice.
The CAB also said that they would contact Trading Standards as part of their routine inter-agency protocol. It is clear from later correspondence with CAB that they did so in November last year, but Trading Standards didn’t pursue the matter even though they clearly had a remit to do so.
An invoice to cover the cost of the repairs was sent to Burnage Motors on 7th November, 2019. They were asked to pay within 14 days to avoid the issue of court proceedings. No response was received to the correspondence to which the invoice was attached. As a result, the second County Court claim was, ultimately, issued to Burnage on 19th December, 2019 by the County Court Business Centre. The motor trader subsequently filed a defence to the claim and the case file has now been transferred to Huddersfield County Court. An application is to be made to strike out the defence, as the Statement of Truth attestation is defective, in breach of court procedure, and the defence is, in any event, almost completely without merit. It amounts to an accusation against me, an accredited journalist, that the defects, and the cost of remedying them, are ‘made up’. A point they chose not to make in pre-action correspondence.
A third County Court claim has been issued over prima facie data protection and privacy breaches by Burnage. They were first notified of the position in October, 2019 when I discovered that they were advertising the Mercedes car on the Auto Trader website (and probably elsewhere) with photographs of my private number plate. A registration mark I have owned since 1989. This was a both alarming and distressing development – and so completely unnecessary. The dodgy dealer had been sent the certificate, by me, showing the replacement number allocated to the vehicle, by DVLA, following the transfer of the cherished plate onto a Retention Certificate. It was, in fact, the same number that was attached to the car when it was bought, pre-owned, in 2011.
Yet again, there was no response at all to that correspondence and, quite extraordinarily, Burnage persisted with the breach. They eventually responded on 20th December, 2019 with a derogatory, highly personalised attack and, from that email, it was clear that Burnage has no intention of remedying the breach without court intervention. I am, according to Jez, ‘a deluded old man’.
This claim has now, also, been transferred to Huddersfield County Court, where another application to strike out will be made. This time the Burnage defence, also with a defective Statement of Truth attestation, is that no breach of data law or regulations has occured. The court, the readers of this article may be assured, will make short work of that groundless, time-wasting assertion.
The picture painted of Burnage Motors Limited, “Jez” and “Jim”, only from these limited dealings with me is, on any independent view, an ugly landscape of unethical, unpleasant, unprofessional and dishonest conduct: Lying about the V62 and V5c; misleading and unlawful description of a vehicle; flagrantly and persistently breaking the law; having a county court judgment registered against them over what might be considered a relatively modest sum of money (£149.62); and last, but not least, an insulting, derogatory approach to customers who raise perfectly legitimate complaint issues with them, if, indeed, they actually trouble themselves to reply at all.
It is hard to imagine how the situation could get worse, but it did: When the bodywork repair was carried out, to remedy the badly applied paint to the rear nearside quarter of the vehicle, it transpired that the rear bumper is not the original manufacturers part. Neither, it seems, is the rear tailgate. The reasonable conclusion to draw from that is that the vehicle has been in an accident requiring the replacement of both parts that comprise the rear end of the vehicle. That implies a serious ‘shunt’ and also provides an answer, in part at least, to the puzzle of how the wheels of the vehicle were so badly aligned when it came to the time for the vehicle’s MOT test and annual service.
This discovery goes directly against the specific assertions made by both Jim and Jez at the time of the sale; that the car had not been involved in an accident. It also raises the question as to how the vehicle came up in an Auto Trader search that excluded insurance categories S, C, D and N (read more here about how those categories work).
The defective paintwork on the Vauxhall was recent, and was peeling away because it had been applied without first keying the primer coat below. The finger of suspicion, therefore, points at Burnage Motors as Jez claims that he ‘owns a body repair shop’. Underscored by the fault with the rear wipers, mentioned earlier in this piece, the missing V5c and, piecing together its service and tax history, and the fact that the vehicle appears to have been off the road for around 6 months prior to the sale to me.
That I have appear to have bought a crash damaged vehicle, at a fairly full retail price, is not only horrifying, but seriously embarassing. A person of my business experience, and present vocation as a journalist should, in all truth, not be caught out in such a way. Nevertheless, a calm head was required and I set about further investigation and renewed contact with Stockport’s so far silent Trading Standards Department.
Following that reminder email I was contacted via telephone, on 11th February, 2020, by Dave Collins, a Case Manager in the council’s Public Protection Department. I was eating my lunch at the time and explained that the time for talking was limited. Mr Collins tried to dominate the conversation and speak over me (which he will have been trained to do). Nothing too much wrong with that, if a caller has something to say that is going to educate and inform. But that was not the case in this instance and Mr Collins left me with the distinct impression that he regarded himself as altogether much more clever than me and, more crucially, would do anything he could to avoid this investigation.
In those circumstances, and on that basis, I invited Mr Collins to bring the call to a conclusion and we would, thereafter, communicate by email so that there was a satisfactory audit trail to which we could both later refer, if necessary. Confirmed to him, in writing, that same afternoon.
That, as it turned out, and entirely as expected, proved to be Mr Collins’ undoing. He is now exposed as lazy and discourteous public servant. I have constantly had to push for action; set out a necessary, but proportionate, investigation plan for him; urged him to treat matters with the appropriate seriousness. Not least, the discoveries, during the course of our correspondence, that Burnage Motors Limited appear to be trading whilst insolvent and had sold a crash damaged vehicle without making the necessary declaration.
At the time of the latest published accounts, to the year end 31st October, 2018, the company appeared to have made a loss of over £100,000 in the trading year and accumulated a shareholder fund deficit of over £173,000 .
Those accounts were actually signed off by Mujahid Jamil just a few days after I purchased the Vauxhall from Burnage Motors. Other enquiries have revealed that there have been two county court judgments officially registered against Burnage Motors Ltd.
In the context of my own disputes with the rogue car trader these were important discoveries. I was already paying out court costs for the second and third County Court claims and a fourth, even larger one, was contemplated in order to obtain remedy in respect of the alleged reduction in value of the vehicle as a result of crash damage.
The question now is; am I throwing good money after bad if the financial woes force Burnage Motors to cease trading?
But none of this appears to faze Stockport Council, or Dave Collins, who also appears to have a lack of understanding of plain English and/or a marked reluctance to act on simple, straightforward, plainly expressed requests. He has, sort of, apologised for his discourtesy so we will overlook that, for the moment. But he still hasn’t explained why emails containing important information and documents were ignored, or why he sat on the case and did nothing for over 3 weeks and would, presumably, have continued to do nothing until pressed into action.
After this concerning period of inactivity, he finally visited Burnage Motors, he reports, on 5th March, 2020. The day after he was chased up for, seemingly, doing nothing and not answering emails. But, it transpires, he had not even contacted the DVLA prior to that visit, or at any time in the near month after I had provided him with the copy of the V5c. An absolutely basic requirement, one might readily conclude, given the nature of one of the main complaints against Burnage Motors: Has there been one owner of the subject vehicle, or, as DVLA says, two.
Mr Collins does not appear to have even raised the point of the apparent non-declaration of the crash damage. Which most members of the public would rank as more serious than the number of owners.
The following day, I received an email from Ian O’Donnell, who claims he has reviewed the complaint file and found the investigation conducted by his subordinate to be ‘proportionate’. He did not provide the timeline and schedule of actions undertaken by Mr Collins that I had requested, nor did he explain why they were absent from his communication. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusion from those omissions.
Mr O’Donnell also refused to provide the contact details for Pamela Smith, the chief executive of Stockport Council. Futile, one might argue, but highly informative of his mindset, nevertheless.
For his sake, and a data subject access request will reveal almost all of the information I need, it is hoped that he has not set out to deliberately mislead in order to ‘protect’ his colleague and the reputation of the Council.
Given what is widely available on the internet by way of seriously negative feedback about Burnage Motors Ltd, “Jez” and “Jim”, it would strike the independent observer as extraordinary if there were not a fair number of other complaints made to Stockport’s Trading Standards Department. This suggests to a journalist, at least, that there may be more to the relationship between the two than meets the eye.
Enquiries continue, as they say. More particularly, when I return to the UK and re-visit the premises of Burnage Motors, this time with a cameraman in attendance. Amongst the more general questions I will put to “Jez” are: Why he claims his premises are ‘based in Stockport on the A6’. They are, decidely, not. Why he claims that his ‘reputation’ has contributed to the growth of his business when it appears notably poor and the business appears to be in terminal decline. More specifically he will be asked to produce the paperwork for, and photographs of, the Vauxhall I purchased, to avoid which, so far, he has been prepared to openly defy court procedure rules.
It will be an interesting morning, for sure.
In the meantime, and now over a week ago, Burnage Motors Limited and Stockport Council were invited to provide statements in response to this article.
The dodgy car dealer is, perhaps understandably, lying low. More surprisingly, the Council’s press office has failed to even acknowledge the email sent to them and, even more crucially, sight of the timeline and schedule of actions from Messrs Collins and O’Donnell is still absent. They were both sighted in the article at the same time as their press office.
Chief executive, Pam Smith, paid over £150,000 per annum by the Borough’s taxpayers, was copied into that email. She has not sprung to the defence of one of her highest paid departmental managers, or promised a rather more rigorous approach to the Burnage Motors ‘investigation’. In those circumstances, her political master, Elise Wilson, the Council Leader will now be contacted as a matter of urgency.
Page last updated: Wednesday 18th March, 2020 at 1025 hours
Photo Credits: Vauxhall Motors
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