Directors of Peterborough firm that 'treated customers as enemies' and 'based business on bullying and lies' jailed
Directors of a Peterborough firm which pressure sold beds and chairs to elderly and vulnerable residents have been jailed.
Husband and wife Geoffrey and Jaqueline Turner, who were both directors of Life Comfort Products, Sales manager David Turner - brother of Geoffrey, national marketing manager Tim Clark were all jailed at Cambridge Crown Court this afternoon by Judge Jonathan Cooper.
Geoffrey Turner was jailed for 12 months, his wife for nine months and his brother also for nine months. Clark was jailed for six months.
Sales staff Joel Henry and David Perrow were sentenced to two months in prison, suspended for 12 months while Brendan Donahoe was sentenced to four months in jail, suspended for 18 months.
The firm itself has now gone into voluntary liquidation.
All entered guilty pleas to a charge of contravening professional diligence.
Sentencing the seven defendants, Judge Cooper said "You treated customers as enemies.”
He added: The business model was based on bullying and lies."
He said customers were ‘bullied by salesmen and ripped off by the office’ and the firm intended to drown out legitimate rival firms - and had a turn over of Â£5 million during the offending period.
He added: “You chose to impoverish customers mentally, intellectually, emotionally and financially.”
Clark swore as the sentence was passed, and again as he was taken away to start his sentence.
The court had previously been told the maximum sentence was one of two years in prison and/or a fine, with Judge Cooper saying all defendants would be given a 25 per cent discount on sentences because of their guilty pleas.
The court was told how Life Comfort Products, based in Werrington, operated sales and door canvassing teams all over England. Following hundreds of complaints to Citizens Advice concerning aggressive sales tactics, officers from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards executed a warrant at the firm's offices, during which numerous scripts and training materials were seized.The court had been told the firm actively targeted the elderly and vulnerable, ordering canvassers to seek out suitable addresses by looking for disabled access ramps, grab rails in areas where there was a large number bungalows in the area.A number of demonstrations had been given to customers with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, which family members state their parent's vulnerabilities would have been plainly visible to anyone.Consumers were told that the rise and recline chairs were manufactured by the company at their Peterborough factory, however, in reality, the chairs were purchased from another manufacturer and were sold by Life Comfort Products with a considerable mark-up.
When demonstrators did arrive at customers homes, they would often spend a number of hours showing the products. The court' was told they would say products were on sale for high prices, before telling residents they were eligible for discounts - but only while the staff were in the home.The court even heard demonstrators from the firm even signed cheques for customers.Trading Standards received numerous complaints, supported by three independent furniture reports which showed chairs were not fit for purpose, had not been made to the consumer's individuals measurements and had numerous manufacturing defects.
At a previous hearing at Peterborough Crown Court Cameron Crowe, prosecuting, told the court of one example where a 92-year-old woman was sold a bed - which then was so big she could not move round the room using her zimmer frame.In two cases there was evidence suggesting that a chair and an electric adjustable bed actually made the consumer's health complaints worse.
Mr Crowe said the firm put profits ahead of everything else - with Clark telling canvassers to be 'persistently persistent when calling potential customers.'
When interviewed, Mr Crowe said Geoffrey Turner - a 50 per cent shareholder - showed no remorse for the firms actions - and even claimed the company had done nothing wrong. Jacqueline Turner, a 25 per cent shareholder - even sought to blame Trading Standards, while David Turner denied all wrong doing.
James Buchanan, defending the Turners and Clark, as well as the company as a whole, said a number of questionnaires had been filled out by customers, showing many were satisfied with the service received.
However, Judge Cooper said thought it was clear the file produced by the defence did not include all questionnaire responses - with a note from David Turner to Geoffrey Turner indicating negative responses were kept separate to positive ones.
Judge Cooper said Geoffrey Turner had shown no remorse at any stage of the proceedings for any of his victims.
Geoffrey and Jaqueline Turner held hands through the hearing, but showed little emotion as they were sentenced - however there were tears from friends and family in the public gallery.
Following the sentence, Peter Gell, head of regulatory services for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards, said: "These sentences reflect the seriousness of the offence and that this company was using very aggressive sales techniques against victims, many of whom were targeted because they were vulnerable."Not only this, but the rise and recline chair products that the company was selling were found in some cases as not fit for purpose with numerous manufacturing defects. In two cases there was evidence suggesting that a chair and an electric adjustable bed actually made the consumer's health complaints worse."The excellent investigational work carried out by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards supported by National Trading Standards has resulted in the sentencings and this should go out as a strong warning to other company's who think they can get away with targeting vulnerable and elderly people for their substantial financial gain."
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: "These criminals deliberately targeted neighbourhoods in ‘No Cold Calling Zones’ so they could prey on homeowners in more vulnerable situations, such as people with a disability or older people. They were aggressive on the doorstep and pressurised victims to buy products they did not want or need.
"I would urge everyone to keep an eye out for family, friends and neighbours who may be targeted by scams like this. If you suspect you are being scammed or defrauded then you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06."
The National Trading Standards Board funds the Regional Investigation Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams.Carl Robinson, Chair of the NTS (Tri) Regional Investigation Team said:"This was a particularly nasty scam targeting elderly and often vulnerable people in their own homes. Officers from our Regional Investigation Team were pleased to be able to assist in bringing the case to a successful conclusion. "This highlights the value and success of partnership working between local authority Trading Standards services and regional assets such as the Regional Investigation Teams. "
Geoffery Turner (65) and Jacqueline Turner (60) both of Hall Lane, Werrington, Peterborough, David Turner (62) of Swan Close, Spalding, Clark (43) of High Road, Wisbech, Henry (54) of Bluebell Close, Daventry, Donahoe (59) of Cogging Close, Newark and Perrow (62) of Newick Road, Liverpool, as well as the company overall, had all entered guilty pleas to a charge of contravening professional diligence.All defendants were given a Criminal Behaviour Order restricting their ability to work in sales for five years.
Geoffrey Turner was also disqualified from working as a director of any company for ten years, while Jaqueline was disqualified for seven years.
The court will consider financial penalties and compensation from the three Turners and Clark at a hearing in October, when the firm itself will also be sentenced.
Along with the suspended sentences, Donahoe, Perrow and Henry were ordered to carry out 20 days of rehabilitation activity requirement.
Henry and Donahoe will also have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Donahoe was ordered to pay Â£500 costs and Â£500 compensation, Henry ordered to pay Â£2,500 costs, and Perrow Â£500 compensation. They were given 12 months to pay.