Fraud case against Blackpool businessman collapses

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A BLACKPOOL-based businessman is seeking an apology and an explanation from Blackpool Council after a two-year prosecution brought against him by trading standards officers collapsed.

Stuart Holt, managing director of Automart Online, is also demanding to know how much taxpayers’ cash has been spent in pursuing charges of conspiracy to defraud against him.

Holt’s business sold advertising space for motor vehicles on the web using a no-sale, no-fee charging structure.

It was claimed that his company had deceived customers into believing they were dealing with another well-known online motors site. Holt said that following earlier problems, he had agreed a sales script with trading standards and that he endeavoured to ensure that his staff stuck to it.

Holt’s business was initially raided by Trading Standards officers in Blackpool in December 2008 and February 2009, during which time documents and computer hardware were taken away for analysis. Proceedings were then initiated against him in December 2009.

However, a case which was scheduled to last for eight weeks at Preston Crown Court collapsed earlier this week after just six days when Manchester-based law firm Burton Copeland successfully argued that it had been an abuse of process.

“Two and-a-half years out of my life have been wiped out and a business that I had which employed 10-15 people has been destroyed,” Mr Holt told TheBusinessDesk.com.

Burton Copeland had previously successfully defended kitchen company boss Vance Miller against a flawed prosecution by trading standards officers at Oldham Council, which is estimated to have cost local taxpayers up to £4m.

Mr Holt said that he wants to know what the cost of his case will be to the council taxpayers of Blackpool – “especially at a time when they are having to save so much money  and people are losing their jobs”.

“This case was a waste of resources. It’s obscene,” he argued.

Holt’s lawyer, Jonathan Wall,  said: “Inefficiency like this is par for the course as far as trading standards are concerned.”

Tim Coglan, Blackpool Council’s head of Quality Standards, said: “Blackpool Council has a robust policy regarding prosecutions as it is keen to protect both residents and visitors alike, but never prosecutes without fully considering all the circumstances.
 
“Trading Standards have followed in great detail the legal advice they obtained both from the council’s legal team and from two independent barristers.

He added that the decision to prosecute Automart had been taken after the council received “had received hundreds of complaints”.

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