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I was stranded by a kitchen deal that sounded too good to be true

On Monday week the trial will commence in a Manchester court of Vance Miller and Alan Ford, two of the people behind a company called Rock Solid Kitchens.

According to Oldham Trading Standards, both are charged with "conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to commit fraud by failing to disclose information".

A Westmeath consumer knows only too well what it's like to be on the receiving end of such fraud after paying €1,950 to Rock Solid Kitchens for a kitchen that was never fully delivered.

After seeing an advert for quality kitchens at cheap prices in her local newspaper, she ordered one last September, paid €300, and agreed to pay the final €1,650 on delivery, which would take place two weeks later. The first alarm bells rang when she was subsequently asked to pay the remainder before delivery, a request that she rightly refused and instead asked to pull out of the deal.

Undeterred, the company sent another man to measure her kitchen and two weeks later it was delivered. The delivery man checked everything against the order and she paid the remaining €1,650.

This is when her troubles started, as when the installer arrived he discovered that many pieces of the new kitchen were, in fact, missing. This woman has since sent several emails, two registered letters and a solicitor's letter to the company but 12 months later she still has no response, and no refund for the undelivered part of the kitchen.

In the meantime she has had to spend a further €3,000 on the purchase and installation of a kitchen locally. Josephine, from Tipperary, also ordered a kitchen from this company. She paid the €300 deposit but the delivery date came and went, and Josephine tried to cancel. The company said they would deliver and so she gave them another chance.

With her old kitchen now removed and Christmas approaching, Josephine waited, and then waited some more. She never received the kitchen and she never received her deposit back. "All of this has been very stressful," admits Josephine.

Despite price reductions in groceries and in some clothes stores, you can still find lower prices in the North and in the UK. And if you're in the market for a 'big ticket' item such as furniture, many are heading North or looking online to get a better deal.

Sometimes, however, along comes a rogue trader and it all goes horribly wrong.

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Rock Solid Kitchens appear to be such a case and complaints relating to that company totalled 28pc of all furniture-related complaints received by the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in 2008.

Oldham Council's Trading Standards have been continuing to investigate the activities of Vance Miller since they raided his premises in 2006, when the business identity changed from Kitchens to Rock Solid Kitchens. This lead to his arrest and that of Ford, in January this year.

The situation is made even more frustrating for all those consumers who have lost time and money, by the fact that this isn't Miller's first time in trouble.

In 2002, Miller was the first person in the UK to be prosecuted by the Office of Fair Trading under the 'Stop Now' regulations. A Court Order required him to cease supplying goods not of satisfactory quality, supplying goods not as described and from failing to deliver goods.

But he kept selling kitchens and the complaints kept coming and in 2003 he was sentenced to nine months in prison, although he was released shortly afterwards. Fast forward to 2008 and once again he was found in contempt of court and Manchester County Court fined him £90,000 and handed down a six- month sentence suspended for two years. His appeal was dismissed.

Will this saga of defrauding innocent consumers end with the trial of Miller and Ford that's about to begin? Let's hope so.

While this situation is extreme, when buying a kitchen or other furniture the ECC warns "be vigilant when purchasing expensive household items and remember the age old advice that if a kitchen sounds too good to be true for the price, that's probably because it is".


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