Three connected companies who carried on business as vehicle engine reconditioning and repairers were wound up by the High Court on 19 January 2015, following an investigation by the Insolvency Service.
Reconditioned Engines Ltd (REL), Unique Engines Ltd (UEL), and latterly 1ST Choice Engines Ltd, were the latest trading guises in a long line of companies offering engine reconditioning and repair services to the public, dating back to 1982. REL and UEL both traded from the same premises at Units 9 11, Saxon Way, Harmondsworth.
REL traded for a period of approximately 10 months, between October 2012 and August 2013. RELs director, Roy Dart, gave an undertaking to the High Court in June 2013 that he would seek to place REL into voluntary liquidation by 27 August 2013. Mr Dart failed to comply with that undertaking. The business of REL was then effectively transferred to UEL, who continued to trade for a matter of months before it was evicted from its trading premises in October 2013 after it had failed to pay rent and other bills. The company was abandoned at that time, with customers vehicles left on site for the landlord and its agents, along with the police, to repatriate to their owners.
In total the 3 companies had generated over 350 complaints in their brief trading histories, with common threads of complaint across the companies, namely:
unwarranted inflation of quotes after vehicles were taken into respective companies possession, work repaired to an unsatisfactory standard and excessive retention of vehicles
A number of those complaints featured allegations of threats, intimidation and assault on customers by respective company staff
1ST Choice Engines Ltd traded from premises at Unit 5, Perth Industrial Estate, Slough, SL1 4XX, a large warehouse sized building, where customer vehicles were kept whilst under repair. The investigation found that the recorded director and shareholder of the company, Gary Driscoll, played little or no part in the management of the company. The company was instead managed by Paul Dockerill.
1ST Choice Engines Ltd was placed into provisional liquidation on 16 December 2014, following a petition presented by the Secretary of State. The Official Receiver was appointed provisional liquidator at that time, and has administered the affairs of the company since that time, with the business of the company shut down by the Official Receiver on 17 December 2014. On that same day, Thames Valley Police executed search warrants at the business premises and a number of other addresses, where arrests were made. They subsequently issued a press release which commented favourably on the co-ordinated approach between Government agencies.
1st Choice Engines Limited and its predecessors REL and UEL all used common websites to promote their business, including the following:
1st Choice Engines Ltd and its predecessors all operated the same business model, whereby it offered lead in engine reconditioning quotes substantially less than comparable businesses offering engine reconditioning services, along with a relatively inexpensive nationwide vehicle recovery to site service. However, once customer vehicles were in the possession of the company this led to a consistent pattern whereby those lead in quotes were often doubled and more. The basis for those increases was remarkably similar in many cases, irrespective of the actual condition of the engines in need of repair. The practice of all the companies was to significantly inflate final quotes without due cause.
Where customers declined or refused to accept the falsely inflated quotes, they were faced with their vehicle engines being left dismantled in pieces in the boot and back seats of their vehicles, along with a bill for the company having dismantled the engine. Customers vehicles were in essence held to ransom by the company and customers were effectively left with little choice other than to pay the inflated fees.
Those who did object to the companys sales practices and questionable workmanship in those cases where the company claimed to have undertaken repairs, often found themselves on the receiving end of threats, intimidation and assault by staff. Customers had little or no financial redress, as the company and its predecessors operated on a cash basis.
Commenting on the winding up of the 3 companies, David Hill, a chief investigator with the Insolvency Service, said,
These companies operated in a way designed to draw in and then rip-off investors.
There should be no doubt that the Insolvency Service will continue to take robust action whenever serious failings are discovered and in particular against contemptible companies as in this case, preying on customers.