A Billingham man who mis-sold advertising space to local businesses has been given a two year conditional discharge and ordered to pay almost £3,000 in compensation and costs.
Teesside Magistrates Court heard that Stephen Lloyd of Stanhope Road, Billingham, sold advertising in The Phone Box Directory to a number of local businesses but did not go on to publish the directory.
The 51-year-old appeared before the court today (Tuesday 31 March). He pleaded guilty to five offences of Engaging in Misleading Advertising contrary to the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008.
Stockton Council’s Trading Standards officers investigated Mr Lloyd after receiving complaints from businesses in the Billingham and Wolviston area.
In October 2013 Mr Lloyd began to approach businesses to advertise in the Phone Box Directory, showing them an existing copy which had been produced in the shape and design of a telephone box. Businesses were told the directory would be distributed in January 2014 to up to 150,000 homes throughout the Tees Valley.
However, more than a year later the directory had not been published with businesses paying between £50 and £250 for advertising they did not receive.
On one occasion Lloyd encouraged a business to take advertising space by falsely claiming two local retailers had already taken advertising. Both retailers confirmed to Trading Standards this was not the case.
Despite requests from the businesses and Council officers, Mr Lloyd did not refund the fees.
In mitigation Mr Lloyd said that he wished to apologise to the complainants and that he had run the directory as a successful business a number of years ago. He said he wished that he had contacted customers, explained the situation to them and issued refunds to them.
He was given a two year conditional discharge for each offence, to run concurrently, and ordered to pay the complainants £1,480 in compensation and the Council £1,427 in costs.
Peter Kelly, Stockton Council’s Director of Public Health, said, said: “Trading Standards will investigate and take action against traders who make contracts which are based on false claims whether these are with consumers or other businesses.
“We are committed to protecting businesses and consumers. This sentence sends a message that traders will not be permitted to target small businesses and take their hard earned cash in this way. Businesses need to make the most of their advertising budgets and to just take their money and provide nothing in return is totally unacceptable.”