Landmark court win over cold callers

A WINDOWS firm has been landed with a £22,000 legal bill after a householder who was plagued with cold-call visits took it to court in a landmark legal case.

John Wigmore, 63, made "umpteen" complaints to prevent cold-call canvassers working for Safestyle UK knocking on his door.

After formally warning the company and bringing in trading standards officers, North Lincolnshire Council eventually triggered the prosecution on Mr Wigmore's behalf in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.

Mr Wigmore, from Scunthorpe, said: "I am big enough and ugly enough to deal with salesmen but an elderly female who lived opposite was not. Basically I have done this for consumers in general.

"The implication was that if you keep going on for long enough someone will buy a product even if they don't want it.

"I saw the case as protection for people who were less able than me."

HPAS Ltd, trading as Safestyle (UK), fought and lost a trial over two-and-a-half days at North Lincolnshire Magistrates Court.

The company denied three offences of engaging in unfair commercial practice by ignoring a consumer's request not to return to his home and continuing to call there, but was convicted.

The court heard that the company used door-to-door canvassing agents who knocked on doors, hoping to drum up appointments for salesmen to visit in the hope of winning orders.

Electrical technician Mr Wigmore wrote to the company in August 2005 complaining about the rudeness of a cold-caller.

In February 2006, he wrote another letter and asked the company to instruct its canvassers not to call again.

But he received more visits and was told that, because the company had so many callers, it was impossible to prevent canvassers visiting individual addresses.

Safestyle agent Darren Booth visited Mr Wigmore's home on May 12, 2009, followed by Ryan Khan on October 1, 2009, and Christian Sharpe, on October 15, 2009 – the same day Mr Wigmore received a special sticker from Safestyle meant to deter canvassers.

The court heard that, in a memo issued by the company in November 2008, Mr Wigmore's address was highlighted in bold and that the company's agents were told not to knock on his door at any cost, otherwise there would be serious disciplinary action. But the visits continued.

Mr Booth admitted he saw a notice outside Mr Wigmore's home, saying: "Salesmen, do not knock. Leave the premises. Do not return."

District Judge Curtis in a written judgment rejected the company's claims that it had taken all reasonable precautions to prevent the offences being committed and that it had acted with all due diligence.

The firm was fined a total of 4,000 and was ordered to pay 18,013 costs to North Lincolnshire Council and a Government-imposed 15 victim surcharge.

The court heard that the company employed about 850 canvassers across the country. They were not employed by the firm, but were self-employed agents paid a fee when an appointment was made, as well as a commission when there was a sale.

Mr Wigmore said he believed salesmen were attracted to his 1930s home because it had "old-fashioned" aluminium doors and windows.

He said: "I had a notice in the door but people said, I'm not a salesman, I'm a canvasser.

"A salesman actually said to me: 'That doesn't apply to us, we can call anywhere we want to.'

"They would always come at 5.30pm on a Thursday when you were having your tea and they would come six times in a 12-month period. I felt myself and my wife were subject to personal harassment.

"I dealt with this to the last decimal point whereas many people could suffer for years and years with cold callers."