A husband and wife from Leeds charged with consumer protection offences against vulnerable customers have, at Leeds Crown Court today (4 July 2016), given opposing pleas.
Defendants, Claire Wray aged 38 and Paul Wray aged 49, both of Clayton Wood Close, Leeds operated Dreamwell Ltd, and are charged with mis-selling over £91,679 of mattresses, beds and mobility equipment to 34 elderly consumers throughout England.
Claire Wray, as the sole director of Dreamwell Ltd, and the company itself have pleaded not guilty and will go to trial early next year. Her husband, Paul Wray is the company secretary, and he has pleaded guilty.
The couple was arrested in a joint operation between police and trading standards officers on 9 December 2014, following over 50 complaints which triggered an extensive operation over a period of 18 months by the National Trading Standards Scambuster Team (Yorkshire & the Humber) based at City of York Council.
Investigators found that canvassers acting on behalf of Dreamwell misled consumers into believing that they were carrying out market research, when in fact they were arranging appointments for sales staff to visit elderly consumers in their own homes. Consumers were also misled into providing information about their medical history, which was later used in hard sell tactics by sales staff mis-selling mobility-related products. Staff created the impression that Dreamwell was a company with medical credentials or connected to a healthcare body, when it was actually a business acting with a purely commercial intent.
Sales staff were trained by Paul Wray to mislead consumers into believing that the products Dreamwell offered would dramatically help their medical problems. These staff were also encouraged to carry out their sales pitch in the consumers’ bedrooms, where consumers were asked to test products.
Once in the consumers’ home, sales staff engaged in aggressive commercial practices to sell mobility-related products. In one instance, the salesperson stayed in the consumers’ home for 6.5hours. Sales staff took advantage of the frailty and vulnerability of their customers, even visiting consumers with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The investigation found that the products sold were unnecessary, unsuitable and expensive.
Paul Wray pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in unfair commercial practices, aggressive commercial practices and consent or connivance between 9 October 2012 and 14 March 2015. Claire Wray and Dreamwell Ltd both pleaded not guilty. The case has been adjourned for sentencing.
Councillor Nigel Ayre, Executive Member with responsibility for Trading Standards at City of York Council, said: “Vulnerable consumers were deliberately targeted and their eagerness to improve their medical conditions were exploited by this business. I applaud the tenacity of the investigating team in successfully bringing this case to trial to show that we will act on valid information and see that justice is done.”
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said: “This scheme preyed on consumers in vulnerable situations, pressurising them into buying products through deceit and aggressive tactics. This has left many households out of pocket and – in some cases – seriously distressed. I am pleased to see that this case has been brought to trial and I urge people not to respond to companies visiting your property to sell their products.
“If you do find yourself confronted by a sales team on your doorstep, always check their credentials. Anyone who is concerned about themselves, or others, being the victims of similar criminal activity should contact the Citizens Advice helpline on 03454 040506.”
For more information about this case contact Megan Rule, Communications Manager at City of York Council on 01904 552017.
For more general enquiries regarding National Trading Standards please call 020 7025 7570 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors
National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.
National Trading Standards funds the Scambuster Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams:
Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CeNTSA)
North East Trading Standards Authorities (NETSA)
Trading Standards East Midlands (TSEM)
Trading Standards North West (TSNW)
Tri Region Scambusters (TRS), on behalf of Trading Standards South East Ltd (TSSEL), East of England Trading Standards Association (EETSA) and London Trading Standards Association (LoTSA)
Trading Standards Partnership South West (SWERCOTS)
Yorkshire and Humber Trading Standards Group (YAHTSG) and
Wales Heads of Trading Standards (WHoTS)
There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.
For more information, please visit www.nationaltradingstandards.uk