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The investigation into the activities of Goldvale Associates, trading as Radford International Movers of Billericay, involved the largest number of complaints about a single firm that the Gazette has had from the trade in recent years.

Now Robert Punnett and Stephen Banks have been banned for six and four years respectively from being directors of a company or in any way, whether directly or indirectly, being concerned or taking part in the promotion, formation or management of a company.

Mr Banks continues in the moving and shipping business legally as a sole trader, however, operating as Meadows International with a holding address in Regent Street, London.

The bans, enforced by the Insolvency Service, a branch of the Department of Trade and Industry, came after the Gazette submitted the dossier to the Official Receiver’s Office late last year.

Most of the complaints about the firm stemmed from excessive delays in delivering goods, but included the complete failure to deliver and non-payment for goods received.

One complaint involved Gary Wright Antiques of Moreton-in-Marsh who had paid Radford International to ship goods to Australia in 1998. The customer never received their goods and Gary Wright Antiques were never paid. Eventually, they obtained a County Court Judgment against the then holding firm, Goodline Management Ltd, which was put into liquidation within weeks, with Goldvale set up to take over Radford International by the same management team.

Whenever the Gazette contacted Mr Banks, who managed the company, he blamed sub contractors and others for a series of misfortunes.
Trading Standards, who had investigated the firm, accused the operators of luring customers in with cheap quotes and then not fulfilling their commitments. Records at Companies House showed a string of companies set up and then dissolved in succession over a number of years with customers unable to recover their money.

The Trading Standards investigation also looked at whether Mr Banks and Mr Punnett were in breach of assurances given to the Office of Fair Trading in 1997 about their future conduct following a number of complaints.

Giving notice of the ban, the Insolvency Service noted that Robert Punnett had:
• caused Goldvale to trade while insolvent, in that it was not paying its debts to trade creditors of the Revenue on time from at least March 1999 to the date of his resignation in March 2000;
• failed to act in the best interests of Goldvale’s customers and in so doing breached his earlier assurances to the OFT in that he caused or permitted unreasonable delay to customers’ shipments, including several instances where goods did not arrive at all; and
• breached conditions of the Insolvency Act 1986, with confusion being caused to Customs by continued use of the same trading name by different companies.
Mr Banks was also found to have failed to to act in the best interests of his customers and to have breached the OFT assurances for the same reasons as Punnett. And he was found to have:
• used delaying tactics to avoid providing information to customers and provided incorrect or inaccurate information;
• failed to ensure that insurance was arranged for some customers;
• failed to provide the required documentation nor did he ensure that Goldvale paid the agents and shipping companies to allow the release of customers’ goods, causing customers to have to pay additional costs; and
• failed to advise customers of the liquidation of Goldvale and continued to use its headed fax paper after the date of the winding up order.

One of the continuing difficulties for the authorities in attempting to deal with the complaints is that the company’s customers were trade rather than consumer, which meant that they did not enjoy the protection of the Consumer Act. This limited action that could be taken by Trading Standards, in particular.