‘Dodgy’ Debt Collector prosecuted

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The owner of a takeaway lost his business after his electricity was cut off by a debt collector using a forged warrant to “cut corners”.

Yassar Majeed was left without power for three months at his Three Chefs shop after Stephen Sutton forced his way into the premises – unwittingly helped by police.

Yasar Majeed lost his takeaway business after his electricity was cut off by a debt collector using a forged warrant. Officers believed the warrant they were being shown by Sutton was legal. But Sutton, who admitted he was under pressure at work, had never been to court to have it authorised.

The episode left Mr Majeed without power for three months, which caused him to run up debts and have to sell the Long Eaton business. Mr Majeed, of Normanton, said: “It has been very upsetting for my family. I went from having a very good business to earning nothing.”

Sutton admitted possessing an article for use in fraud.

His barrister, Richard Holloway, said: “He made an error of judgement in not getting the warrant endorsed.  “He was under a lot of pressure at work and regrets the decision he made.” Mr Holloway said Sutton had benefited in no way financially from his deception.

But Mr Majeed said that Sutton’s actions had ruined his livelihood. He said his loss had run into thousands of pounds and he had been forced to sell on the business for 15% of what he paid for it five years previously. He asked the new owner for a job and now works for the business as a paid employee three days a week. He was in a dispute with electricity company EDF Energy over his bill when debt collector Sutton turned up at the fast food shop, Three Chefs.

Sutton insisted he had an authorised warrant to enter the premises and turn off the electricity because the bill had not been paid.

He was refused access by Jane Doyle, partner of Mr Majeed’s landlord, Farhad Neea, who lives over the takeaway. She told police she felt “intimidated” by Sutton, due to his size and the way he spoke to her. She contacted Mr Neea, who called the police, and he and an officer arrived shortly after.

Mr Neea, who backed his tenant in the dispute with EDF, showed police a letter be obtained from court confirming that no warrant had been issued to cut off power, but Sutton continued to insist he had been to court and the warrant was valid.

The debt collector then went to the police station with the officer, where the duty sergeant, seeing the signature on the document, said he believed Sutton was telling the truth. Sutton returned to Three Chefs with two police officers, who told Mr Neea to let them in.

Mr Neea said: “They came back and told me I would be arrested (if I caused problems) so I had to stand back. “One of the officers said if I had a key then to go and get it or they would break the front door. “I said ‘it’s illegal’ and that I would take action against them. I was told to shut up!”

The electricity was then cut off by an engineer accompanying Sutton.

At Derby Crown Court, sentencing 37-year-old Sutton to a community order, Recorder Julian Taylor said the reason the defendant had done what he had was a “mystery” because he had not personally gained from it.

Prosecutor Gregor Purcell told the court Sutton’s job was to carry out debt enforcement for utility companies. EDF had asked Utility Management Service, for which Sutton worked as an agent, to recover the money it believed Mr Majeed owed it.

Sutton had been given a date of the proposed warrant and it was his job to apply to Nottingham Magistrates’ Court for a hearing.  On the hearing date, October 29, 2010, Mr Neea attended the court but there was no sign of Sutton.

Mr Purcell said: “There was no application before the court. This defendant wasn’t even present on the day. “Mr Neea took the precaution of speaking to the court clerk and got a letter stating that no-one had been present.”

On the date of the proposed warrant, November 8, 2010, Sutton went to the College Street takeaway with two locksmiths and demanded to be let into the property, the crown court heard.

Mr Majeed was in Pakistan at the time.

Mr Purcell said Sutton had gone to the magistrates’ court four days later in an unsuccessful attempt to get a post-dated warrant.

The court heard that the initial loss to Mr Majeed was £600 to £800, the cost of the food in his freezer.

Mr Neea, a taxi driver, said he had spent hours writing letters to numerous people, firstly about the electricity bill dispute and secondly about the effects of Sutton’s illegal entry.

The 56-year-old said: “This whole matter has taken over my life.”  He said he felt that EDF should compensate Mr Majeed for his loss and he was upset with the police for not enforcing the law.

He said: “I made the 999 call and asked for help and what I got was the threat of arrest.”

Sutton, of Kirkland Road, Leicester, was told to he must do 200 hours of unpaid work. Recorder Taylor said he would not order Sutton to pay compensation as he had “no means” to do so. He had lost his job as a result of the offence.

Mr Neea said he thought the sentence was a joke. “This is the kind of sentence you give to a guy found with hash in his pocket,” he said.

WHAT EDF, THE POLICE AND UTILITY MANAGEMENT SERVICE HAD TO SAY

An EDF spokesman said: “EDF Energy does not take the decision to disconnect a customer lightly.

“Numerous letters and notifications were issued to the customer during a two-year period and a visit was made to the property prior to the disconnection taking place.

“EDF Energy had legitimate grounds for disconnecting the supply, though it later emerged that an agent employed by a contractor of EDF Energy regrettably carried out the disconnection without following the correct procedures.

“We are now in the process of determining the best course of action to resolve the matter.”

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police said: “Officers attending the premises that day were given documentation showing the business was in debt with its electricity provider.

“The enforcement officer had what appeared to be an authentic warrant, signed by a magistrate in Nottingham.

“The court was called in a bid to check the authenticity of the warrant but officers were told this was not possible.

“Officers had no reason to believe it was a forged document as the man was a bona fide enforcement officer. Later checks by Derbyshire officers cast doubt of the validity of the warrant and Sutton was interviewed. A thorough investigation was conducted that proved Sutton had forged the warrant.

“Mr Neea lodged a complaint about the action of officers at his premises, which was investigated but not upheld. He referred the matter to the IPCC, who also did not uphold his complaint.”

A spokeswoman for Utility Management Service said: “A full investigation was carried out by Utilities Management Services at the time of this incident.

“As a professional supplier of specialist field services, we comply with the highest possible industry standards and behaviour like this will never be tolerated.”

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