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Garage found guilty over car faults; Landmark High Court decision puts customer back in the driving seat.

A Midland garage that failed to carry out repairs on a fault-ridden car was guilty of offences under the trade descriptions laws when it issued an inaccurate invoice, the High Court ruled yesterday.

The decision was hailed as a landmark victory for consumers by Birmingham trading standards chiefs who brought the original prosecution in July.

Yesterday, two senior judges ruled that Formula One Autocentres, Erdington, was properly convicted when it was fined pounds 5,000 and told to pay pounds 3,421 costs by Birmingham magistrates after failing to put right the faults on a Rover car booked in by trading standards officers.

Lord Justice Rose, sitting with Mr Justice Mitchell, ruled the invoice for the "Master Service" amounted to a false trade description because the work had not been done. Last night, Mr Dave Ravenscroft, spokesman for trading standards, said: "I think it' s a great victory that will really help us to target people who service motor vehicles as well as other white goods, like televisions, video machines and fridges.

"It is also a landmark decision for the consumer and will protect people far better in the future."

The court was told trading standards officers decided to check out the quality of servicing work at Formula One's vehicle service centre in November 1996.

They took a Rover 416 for a Formula One Master Service, for a quoted price of pounds 59.95. The car had 24 faults, including nine specifically covered by the service. Afterwards, the vehicle was collected, the service was paid for and an invoice given, w hich indicated the work had been carried out, the court was told.

But when the engineer examined the car two days later the nine defects detected earlier, relating to the vehicle's lights, hoses, brake cylinders and windscreen washer system, were still present.

Formula One was convicted of applying to the Rover, through its invoice, the false trade description Formula One Master Service.

It was also found guilty of supplying to trading standards officer Mr Mohammed Tariq a vehicle to which a false description had been applied. Both offences came under the strict liability rule of the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act. The rule means it is no d efence to say there was no intention to commit an offence.

Formula One argued the Master Service reference was made in connection with "the provision of services", not the supply of goods and was not subject to the strict liability rule.

Formula One also argued that, when the car was handed back, it was not being "supplied" under the Trade Description Act.

But the judge said he had "no hesitation" in ruling that the handing back of a vehicle, which should have been repaired, did constitute a supply of goods under the section. He said the words Master Service on the invoice represented the "untrue" fact tha t the car had been reliably serviced, when it had not.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that the invoice represented that jobs falling within the scope of a Master Service service had been done," he said.

Later, Miss Thekla Fellas, spokesman for Formula One, said: "In this case there was a pure mistake."

She said there was no suggestion Formula One had acted dishonestly and she criticised the High Court ruling.

"If someone carrying out the repairs misdescribes the work carried out he is liable to conviction, even if a mistake has been made perfectly honestly," she said.

During yesterday's proceedings, Formula One's counsel Mr Kevin de Haan applied for leave to take the case to the House of Lords.

The judges said the firm would have to ask the Law Lords themselves to hear the case.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 28, 1998
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