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Debt collectors' calls 'were a form of torture', says judge; pounds 20,000 WRITTEN OFF AFTER COURT TOLD OF HARASSMENT.

Byline: ALED BLAKE

A CREDIT card firm "tortured" a customer by hounding him with telephone calls as it sought payment of a pounds 20,000 debt, a Welsh judge said yesterday.

Keith Harrison's debt was written off by Nicholas Chambers QC sitting at Mold.

Judge Chambers said that MBNA had failed to give Mr Harrison the terms and conditions for the card when he took it out.

MBNA yesterday defended its actions and said it had been unable to enter "meaningful dialogue" with Mr Harrison. The judge said: "In my view, the claimant rightly complains that, mainly by MBNA but also by the defendant [debt collectors Link Financial], he was hounded by telephone calls seeking payment of what was said to be due.

"The calls were a form of torture oppressively frequent in amount and often without attribution to an identifiable num-ber. I am unimpressed by suggestions that all that the claimant had to do was to seek a meeting when the position was that those who called him would not listen to what he had to say of his difficulties."

Mr Harrison, a 51-year old businessman from Devon, took out the card in 1998, after responding to a mailshot sent to five million people.

From 2007 he ran into financial problems, ran up a large debt and stopped making any repayments.

In court he argued that, contrary to the explicit requirements of the Consumer Credit Regulations 1983, the bank had failed to send him the necessary terms and conditions for his card, either when he applied for the card or when it was issued to him by post.

MBNA said it would have done so. But the bank could not prove to the court that this had occurred.

Judge Chambers said: "Cumulatively and damningly is what I find to be the way that MBNA and the defendant went about recovering their debt.

"I am satisfied that the claimant's description of the way that he was hounded by his creditors is essentially correct, not least in the use of 'non-traceable' telephone calls.

"It seems to me that such conduct has no proper function in the recovery of consumer debt. Whatever the strength of the suggestion that the courts should only be a last resort, I can see no legitimate comparison between a series of measured warnings which, after full opportunity for response, lead to legal proceedings and what took place."

Judge Chambers said that an inability to comply with an agreement was "no excuse for conduct of which it must be supposed the sole purpose must have been to make the claimant's life so difficult that he would come to heel".

He added: "I cannot think that ... this is conduct that should be countenanced."

An MBNA spokesperson said: "It is important to make clear that this case was not brought against MBNA and it relates to a matter from 2007. However, we are, of course, reviewing the judge's comments.

"It is critical that, if a cus-tomer has fallen behind with their payments, we are able to speak to them so that we can help. It should be noted that in this case we were unable to have any meaningful dialogue with the customer so were unable to ascertain the reason for non-payment."

A spokesman for debt collector Link Financial said: "We attempted to contact Mr Harrison 18 times over a period of 12 months, as Mr Harrison acknowledges himself.

"Although all those calls were unanswered, answer-phone messages were left with a polite invitation to call us together with a contact telephone number. Mr Harrison declined to do so."

Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group said other companies will take more care in the treatment of customers following the judgement.

"This is a real message to anyone else who tries the same tricks," he said.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 4, 2011
Words:635
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