Company directors convicted following largest Trading Standards prosecution. Chairman sentenced to 13 years imprisonment

Andrew Thomas KC, Anam Khan and Leila Ghahhary have successfully concluded the largest ever UK Trading Standards prosecution.

Operation Best was an investigation by North West Regional Trading Standards into fraudulent mis-selling by the BES group of energy companies based in Fleetwood and Blackpool. These were successful businesses with a combined turnover in excess of £100 million pa.

Lies were systemically told to customers by telesales staff working at a call centre selling energy contracts to small businesses. Company directors were aware of the fraudulent mis-selling but failed to take effective action to prevent it. Directors also lied to the regulators (Ofgem and the energy ombudsman) and to customers to conceal the evidence of the fraud. Following a search of the company premises in 2016, thousands of hours of call recordings were recovered which proved the fraud was taking place, together with internal reports which showed that directors were aware of the fraud.

The Trading Standards investigation began in 2015 but was delayed by a series of failed attempts by the defendants to block it through High Court claims. Two Judicial Reviews (R (BES) v Preston CC [2018] EWHC 1534 (Admin) and R (Qualter) v Preston CC [2020] EWHC 2563 (Admin)) were dismissed, as was a civil action against the investigating authority (BES v CWAC [2022] EWHC 2162 (QB)).

Following a 6 month trial at Preston Crown Court, three company directors – Andrew Pilley, Michelle Davidson and Lee Qualter – were convicted of fraudulent trading. Joel Chapman, the companies’ Head of Regulation and Compliance, was convicted of Fraud by False Representation.

Andrew Pilley was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment, Michelle Davidson to 6 years imprisonment, Lee Qualter to 7 years imprisonment and Joel Chapman to 8 months imprisonment.

Andrew Thomas KC, Anam Khan and Leila Ghahhary were instructed by Rachel Adamson of Adkirk Law, acting on behalf of NW Regional Trading Standards and Cheshire West and Chester Council.

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