Articles in The Times in 2009 also show Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation had publicly raised the issue of Cirrus’s tendering scams before Peverel turned itself in
Sir Peter Bottomley has waded into the Peverel price-fixing scandal by publicly doubting whether the company had “confessed” to the Office of Fair Trading before being alerted by the three Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation whistleblowers.
He also wants to know whether any public body was aware of “possible unlawful or criminal behavior involving Peverel”.
The three Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation whistleblowers – who include Susan Wood, Ken Kilmister and a third activist who prefers to remain nameless – contacted the OFT in January 2010, but the OFT is claiming that Peverel turned itself in the month before, in December 2009.
In an email to Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation yesterday afternoon Ms Yael Shine, the team leader of the OFT investigation, states: “I understand that you have approach Peverel to ask when Peverel first reported the matter to the OFT. I can confirm that Peverel reported this matter to the OFT in December 2009, prior to any complaint being received by the OFT.”
This was immediately passed to Sir Peter Bottomley who replied in a statement to Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation / LKP:
“What matters is who lost, who knew and who dominated this disgrace.
“It is vital to establish exactly when and in what circumstances the Serious Fraud Office, Trading Standards and the OFT first knew of allegations of possible unlawful or criminal behaviour involving Peverel.
“Unless the SFO, Trading Standards and OFT were alerted by Peverel before any public organisation had any indication of wrong-doing, it cannot be right to offer four years later immunity from penalty or from prosecution.
“I doubt whether the first Peverel confession does, in fact, pre-date the Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation whistleblowers or others contacting the SFO, Trading Standards or the OFT.
“Pensioners in retirement leasehold will be in despair if those who have cheated them for years are to be treated leniently. After such a protracted investigation, they have the right to expect restitution of defrauded funds and court action.
“Peverel have been dominant in this field. Provisions that might be appropriate when a minnow blows the whistle on major collaborating competitors cannot be right when the whale asks for leniency.”
The OFT’s fantasy that Peverel, out of an uncharacteristic sense of civic duty, turned itself in is debunked by media coverage of Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation in late 2009.
On September 26 2009, The Times journalist James Charles reported that the OFT had been swamped by complaints from pensioners living in retirement leasehold:
“It [the OFT] is investigating the industry after being inundated with complaints from residents who are appalled at the way that they are treated.”
On November 7 2009, The Times reported a meeting at the Commons of more than 100 Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation supporters, hosted by Ed Davey, LibDem MP for Kingston and Surbiton and now the Energy Secretary.
Davey is quoted in the article: “After meeting the Consensus Business Group [the Tchenguiz group that then owned Peverel] it seems to me that it knows that it is overcharging residents but it will not reduce the charges unless it is challenged. I find that approach outrageous.”
He urged the “monopolistic” group to be broken up, and added in a specific reference to the OFT:
“The OFT is considering a wider investigation into the residential home market and I believe that it should consider breaking up this cartel to increase competition.”
Cirrus, the warden call and door entry provider at the centre of the price-fixing scandal, was mentioned extensively in the article.
Nigel Bannister, the then chief executive of Peverel, rejected claims that the company awarded contracts to companies within the group.
“People are reading a conspiracy into a problem that isn’t there. We use Cirrus because it is an excellent service,” Bannister is quoted as saying.
Most damning of all to the OFT’s argument that Peverel turned itself in is the article of December 4 2009 in The Times.
Briefed by Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation, it addressed contracts awarded to Cirrus.
“Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation, the Campaign Against Retirement Leasehold Exploitation, has identified a number of developments where vulnerable residents were told of the need to upgrade their warden-call and door-entry systems but were given little choice over what the work would involve or who would do it.”
It continues: “In Heather Court, in Chichester, Sussex, and Chislet Court, Herne Bay, and Roman Court, Edenbridge, both in Kent, only two companies produced a tender for the work: Cirrus and Glyn Jackson Communications.”
Glyn Jackson Communications, which went into liquidation in June 2012 (its directors were Glyn Jackson and Jayne Michelle Jackson), is one of the three companies involved in sham tendering processes which always revealed Cirrus to be cheaper, according to the OFT.
The Times reported the case of Gibson Court in Esher, Surrey where residents were told that they would have to pay about £39,000 for a new system.
“Marina Golding [a Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation activist], who owns a flat in the development that is used by her mother, was at a meeting in which residents were told of two quotes, one from Glyn Jackson for £41,000 and one from Cirrus for £38,973.
“Mrs Golding was shocked at the huge bill quoted by Peverel and contacted another company to get an estimate for the work. Delta Communication Ltd carried out an onsite inspection and quoted her a price of £17,000 to upgrade the system in Gibson Court, more than £20,000 cheaper than the cost quoted by Cirrus.”
Although the OFT states that Peverel owned up to price-fixing in December 2009, it was not co-operative with The Times.
“Peverel refused to explain why Glyn Jackson was asked to quote in every case.”
The OFT’s argument that Peverel should be immune from the consequences of its fiddling because it may have contacted the OFT in December 2009 after a series of high-level exposures in the media is utterly contemptible.
It needs to explain why it is airing this fiction and – equally important – why it has taken four years to deal with this inquiry.
Questions need to be asked of the OFT at the highest level.