Proceed with caution: legal pitfalls in caravan and motorhome deals

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Every woman, every man join the caravan of love, stand up stand up!

Unfortunately, the Isley Brothers and the Housemartins jumped the gun on this one, there’s no Happy Hour here.

We are dealing with several cases for our members where we have been instructed they had purchased motorhomes and caravans from Steve Mann Caravans Limited in Harrogate that either have outstanding finance and/or the original sellers have not received full payment. We understand this is now a police matter.

We have been told, but this is not confirmed, that the police are investigating over £1.5m worth of vehicles. There are at least 37 individuals involved, presumably those who have handed over their vehicles on a sale or return basis and have had no or limited funds back, and at least six innocent traders. We understand these figures could be considerably higher.

This has created rather a hubbub in the caravan and motorhome community as traders desperately scramble to discover which, if any, of their vehicles may be involved.

We need to stress that all of the original owners, new owners, and traders are almost certainly innocent victims here.

This state of affairs seems to have been occurring for at least six months or possibly longer but has only recently come to light.

It appears the number of vehicles that were sold with finance on them is negligible. In these cases, the finance company will no doubt still hold a finance marker on the HPI report, and so that will add another layer of complexity.

Of more pressing concern is the number of vehicles sold on a sale or return basis.

We must state that our investigations are in the early stages as this situation has only recently been revealed. Each case is different and subject to individual circumstances. However, for those cases with no finance involved, it is likely that as the original owners permitted Steve Mann Caravans Limited to sell their vehicle, the title will have legitimately passed as our members purchased them in good faith. In this scenario, the original owners may have a civil debt claim against Steve Mann Caravans Limited, who sold their prized possession, and the new owners will have title to the vehicle. Of course, as with any civil debt case, even if someone obtains a CCJ (county court judgment) against another party, it doesn’t automatically mean the money will follow as the person may not have money to hand over, rendering the CCJ almost useless. 

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The involvement of the police may complicate matters.

To begin with, some of the original owners have reported their vehicles stolen, resulting in the police putting a stolen marker on the vehicles which means they cannot be sold. However, we believe these markers should be removed as the vehicles do not appear to have been stolen, and as far as we are aware, they were willingly handed over for onward sale.

One of our members reports the police have indicated that due to the value of the vehicles, the number of parties involved, and the likely premeditated nature of what was happening, they are considering a prosecution in this matter.

The detective assigned to the case has advised our clients that any such prosecution is likely to be two to three years away and the vehicles will need to be retained as evidence until after any trial. We have clients who have been served a police notice to not dispose of, alter, or destroy their vehicles. We are also aware of individuals, who purchased directly from the company and our members, receiving a similar notice.

The police are unable to store 60 plus vehicles themselves and these notices are the most likely solution to this. It will mean that traders and individuals will have a depreciating asset that they cannot do anything with pending the outcome of the police investigations. This is clearly far from ideal, and Lawgistics will be looking into this and how we can best protect our members’ businesses.

It is possible there are vehicles that dealers have bought recently that are part of this whole operation and have not yet been flagged by the police.

Lawgistics specialise in civil motor trade matters, and we are already defending a threat of a civil injunction for a member, but given the criminal crossover in this, our Community Interest Company is paying for specialist criminal advice from a barrister to further assist our members and the wider caravan and motorhome community as this is very much not a simple or one-dimensional matter. There could be proceeds of crime elements, and there may or may not be a fraud trial in the future, so we are in the process of instructing counsel so we can provide fully holistic advice to our members and help them minimise the impact on their business from all angles. 

Darren FletcherLegal AdvisorRead More by this author

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