A motor trader has been jailed for six months after a Recorder said he had shown “wholesale dishonesty” in his business.
Christopher Christoforou who runs Sandmoor Motors in Leeds Road, Birstall, was prosecuted by West Yorkshire Trading Standards after complaints by customers.
Michael Walsh prosecuting told Leeds Crown Court those complaints related to faulty and misdescribed vehicles in adverts particularly relating to mileage.
He said on 13 occasions vehicles were found to have higher mileage than stated in adverts and on two of those after sales were agreed he replaced the adverts on his website as if they had shown the correct reading.
On three occasions customers were not informed the vehicles were insurance write offs and on five occasions consumers received MOT certificates with advisory items blanked out.
Mr Walsh said after trading standards received notification from the legal compliance department of Auto Trader that they had issued a warning notice to Christoforou about misleading mileages in their adverts, the service issued him with guidance notes in 2011.
But complaints continued and a forecourt inspection was held on 17 May last year in which 20 of the 100 to 120 vehicles in the compound were randomly checked.
Of those, nine were found to have higher mileages than stated on his website, in one case the difference was 46,000 miles. In addition MOT certificates were found to have been altered to blank out advisory items.
Mr Walsh said examples of complaints included a man from Sheffield who bought a Ford Focus advertised in the Auto Trader with 76,000 which the purchaser then realised actually had 96,000 miles on it.
When he spoke to Christoforou about it he was told he should have checked the mileage before driving away.
A Vauxhall Zafira bought by a man from Bradford was advertised with 58,000 when it actually had 73,000 and the MOT certificate supplied was missing advisory items which would have indicated it had been an insurance write off.
Mr Walsh said five vehicles were advertised as being in “absolutely fabulous condition” but were found to have defective brakes, tyres or other parts.
Alan Armbrister for Christoforou said he had advertised the cars in such a way to attract customers to come to his premises. “This is a bargain basement operation so people would have to look at what they were seeing.”
He said the trader did not actually “clock” the mileage on the cars just put different details in the adverts and it was not a question of them being dangerous. But he accepted what he had done was dishonest and “deeply regrets it.”
The amount involved in total as a result of the sales made was less than £7,000 and the business would be hit as a result of the defendant’s conviction, he said.
Christoforou, 49, admitted 26 breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
Jailing him Recorder Simon Batiste said Christoforou had a warning shot across his bows in 1992 when he was given a suspended sentence in 1992 for car clocking.
“I’m satisfied this was a catalogue of fraudulent and dishonest behaviour by you to try and gain extra profits for your business and extra money for you.”
There had to be an immediate jail term for such “wholesale dishonesty.”
“The message has to go out, people who trade in used cars and behave in this thoroughly dishonest way, as you did, the courts will not accept it.”
David Lodge, Head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service said: “This case illustrates that some traders are prepared to act dishonestly and make thousands of pounds by doing so. This service can and will take legal action against the minority of traders who flout their legal responsibilities.”
Councillor Ros Lund, Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee said: “Vehicles advertised on the internet are not always what they appear to be. It pays to carry out checks before any purchases on both history and condition.”