Beset by allegations of non-payment and credit card irregularities, Berkshire saleroom Cameo Fine Art Auctioneers have suspended trading.
On Thursday, April 26, a notice on company stationery was pinned to the door reading: "Due to the adverse publicity and a police investigation into a former member of staff Cameo has suspended business until the end of May."
The company website went down on the same day, shortly after a 558-lot sale of antiques and collectables held in Midgham on Tuesday, April 24 and a week in advance of a 485-lot sale of entertainment memorabilia scheduled for May 1. The catalogue for the latter was listed on invaluable.com but it is understood the sale did not go ahead.
In recent months Cameo have come under fire from vendors who say they remain unpaid for art and antiques sold months ago or others who say their credit cards were debited by Cameo without authorisation.
The firm, much criticised in the Newbury Weekly News, also received unwelcome publicity when they were the subject of The Sheriffs Are Coming, a BBC documentary regarding county court judgments.
After the issue was highlighted in ATG No 2037, April 21, Cameo proprietor and sole trader Jon King issued a statement via online bidding platform Easy Live Auction, in which he described the ATG coverage as "one-sided".
At the time Easy Live declared themselves reassured by Cameo's explanations although, shortly after hosting the £30,000 sale on April 24 they, too, were unable to contact the firm. They immediately contacted Trading Standards.
Mr King's statement, dated April 19, had taken issue with recent press coverage of the firm. "It seems to me that sometimes when the press or public get hold of a negative it is blown up out of all proportion," he wrote.
"We have thrived to build an honest and reliable company and have thousands of happy, satisfied customers. One piece of bad press should not be allowed to escalate to such a level that it damages a business."
In reference to ATG's report that the firm have been subject to 18 outstanding county court judgments in the past 12 months King said: "It is very interesting that the article states we have CCJs totalling £20,000 but there is no reference to any money owed to us. Why is the article not balanced?"
He went on to say the firm had "no outstanding issues" with West Berkshire Council Trading Standards - although this claim was firmly denied by the consumer watchdog who, on April 25, confirmed to ATG they were still investigating the firm.
Spokesman Sean Murphy again urged anyone with a complaint to contact West Berkshire Council's trading standards department via email email@example.com and headline the correspondence 'Cameo.'
The reference in the company notice to a "police investigation into a former member of staff" is understood to relate to allegations of irregularities over credit card payments.
ATG Media's online bidding platform the-saleroom.com suspended Cameo from the site in March when it emerged that sums of £200-400 had been debited from the accounts of people who had simply registered as online bidders but not bought at the Midgham saleroom.
"We gave Cameo every opportunity to explain but their explanations weren't substantiated and resolutions weren't delivered," said managing director Anne Somers.
Since that time ATG have heard from many other people who were unaware they had been charged and those who had contacted the auctioneers about the unauthorised payments but had yet to receive a refund.
Cameo's Easy Live statement commented: "We had a situation where a small number of bidders were wrongly charged for items they had not bid for. This was an administrative error and corrected as soon as the mistake was found. [It is] strange how customers never complain when they have been undercharged."
What next for Cameo?
According to the Companies House website, a new firm, Cameo Auctioneers Limited, with a registered address in Pewsey, Wiltshire was incorporated on April 12, 2012.
Mrs Beverley King and Mrs Samantha Norgrove, both of Abingdon, Oxfordshire are listed as directors.
A search of the Companies House site finds a company of the same name that traded between June 2005 and November 2009 and another by the name of Cameo Fine Art Auctioneers Ltd incorporated in December 2008 and dissolved in March 2011.