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Countrywide plc cover-up of role in ‘illegal dealings’

“Unfortunately, like Shell, the claims of ethical trading by Carsons/Countrywide are a sham if the dire experience of my nephew, Richard Denton, is any guide.  He has had the misfortune of being a client of Carson & Company Estate Agents, a subsidiary of Countrywide Plc. Some of their employees have turned out to be decidedly shady.”

By John Donovan

For over a decade we have been drawing attention to the gap between Shell’s globally advertised General Business Principles compared with its track record of securities fraud, IP theft, price fixing cartels, fictitious trades, horrific pollution, evasion of UN sanctions, embedding spies in the Nigerian government, and involvement in torture, murder and human rights abuses.

Simply put, the oil giants evil deeds to not match the fine words in its much proclaimed ethical code, which is clearly designed to fool the public and investors.

The UK’s largest estate agency (real estate) and lettings network, Countrywide plc, with 46 well known high street brands, also claims to operate on an ethical basis.

“We are regulated by the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and are therefore required to adhere to the code of practice. Our service standards are closely and regularly monitored. We always and only act in our clients best interests, giving you confidence and peace of mind that we will act with integrity and professionalism.”

Estate agents have a toxic reputation on a par with second hand car dealers, so many people may feel that it would be safer to deal with a major chain, owned by a public company. Selling a house is a major event and it helps if you can trust the estate agency acting for you.

Unfortunately, like Shell, the claims of ethical trading by Carsons/Countrywide are a sham if the dire experience of my nephew, Richard Denton, is any guide.  He has had the misfortune of being a client of Carson & Company Estate Agents, a subsidiary of Countrywide Plc. Some of their employees have turned out to be decidedly shady.

Despite Carsons claims of offering “consistently higher standards of performance, a more efficient service, better advice and faster results…”, they acted in a grossly negligent manner resulting in a living nightmare for Richard, who was made homeless for over a year after acting on their advice. As a further consequence, he was embroiled in extended legal proceedings before successfully evicting the alleged prospective purchaser. It was not better advice, but disastrous advice, possibly motivated by personal gain on the part of a Carsons employee, who was supposed to be representing Richard, not the prospective purchaser.

Although Carsons was only ever instructed to put the property up for sale, Richard was maneuvered by them into letting it to the prospective purchaser, supposedly on a very short term basis, using a disastrously flawed “Lettings Agreement” suggested, recommended, supplied and implemented by a Carsons employee, Christian Wicks, who has since admitted receiving a vintage bottle of champagne as a reward from a person now described by Carsons as a ‘con artist’.

In October 2009, Carsons introduced a prospective purchaser who made an acceptable offer. Richard was later informed by Christian Wicks, that there was a delay in funds allegedly in transit to the purchaser, but that the purchaser still wanted Richard to vacate the property by 6 November 2009. Richard advised that he was not comfortable to continue on such terms. The following day, Richard received a telephone call from Christian suggesting that the lettings division of Carsons could draw up a tenancy agreement to protect him so that he would be safe to vacate and allow the purchaser to move in.

Richard was however surprised when he arrived at Carsons office on the afternoon of Friday 6 November to sign the agreement (having vacated his home that day) to discover that the terms set out were scant, amounting to a few lines of text and that the date on the agreement was 9 November 2009. The whole agreement could have fitted on one page, but was spread over three, presumably to make it appear more substantial. Richard was assured by Christian that everything was in order and that he should take Christian’s advice and sign the agreement. Richard felt backed into a corner, but trusted that Carsons had the lettings expertise to safeguard his position, as they had claimed. Unfortunately his faith was misplaced.

The provenance of the so called “Lettings Agreement” is obviously at the heart of this matter.

Carsons/Countrywide has carried out two investigations.

The first by Regional Director Russell Mitten attempted to distance Carsons/Countrywide from any connection or responsibility for the hopelessly flawed “Lettings Agreement”. Mitten stated in his letter dated 4 November 2010:

“Mr XXXXX asked us to type up on plain paper an agreement between both parties for him to take possession of the property. This was not a Carsons letting Agreement and was totally nothing to do with Carsons Earley office.”

For legal reasons I have removed the name of the person in question described by Mr Mitten in the same letter as a very good and effective ‘con artist’. Mr Russell referred to the letting agreement transaction as “illegal dealings”.

Instead of accepting liability for its role in the “illegal dealings”, Carsons/Countrywide has tried to evade responsibility by engaging in a cover-up.

Richard has just received the results of a second investigation, this time by Carsons/Countrywide Managing Director, Steve Annells.

His letter dated 10 February is full of inaccuracies (and inconsistencies compared with the information set out in the first investigation). I will just deal with the key issue, the provenance of the “Lettings Agreement”.

Contrary to the earlier assertion that the defective agreement had nothing to do with Carsons Earley office, there is no denial by Annells that it was printed on Carsons paper, by a Carsons employee, at Carsons Earley office.  However, it is now claimed that a Carsons employee, John Munday, never mentioned by Mr Mitten, typed out the agreement dictated to him over the phone by my nephew. This is totally at variance with the explanation given by Russell Mitten in the first investigation. Richard has no legal, estate agency or property lettings expertise whatsoever and would not know where to start in drafting a Lettings Agreement, or indeed any other legal agreement. The claimed telephone conversation is a total invention. It never happened.

In response to the cover-up contained in the Annells letter, Richard on 14 February 2011 made a Subject Access Request to Carsons/Countrywide under the Data Protection Act. Under UK law, Carsons/Countrywide must now supply him within a prescribed period, all information held by them in which his name appears or reference is made to him. This includes all correspondence, reports, emails, drafts, legal advice etc. Since false evidence has been manufactured, he has asked Carsons/Countrywide to notify all involved employees of criminal offenses under The Data Act relating to the withholding or destruction of any such information. People willing to manufacture false evidence are just as likely to destroy evidence.

Correspondence relating to this matter can be viewed here

I believe that many people who read the correspondence will share the conclusions and views I have expressed in this article.

Further information will be published shortly.

If I were Grenville Turner, the Group Chief Executive of Countrywide, I would intervene immediately to find out the truth about the provenance of the so called Lettings Agreement foisted on my nephew in very dubious circumstances. It is in the best interests of Countrywide Plc investors that the cover-up is exposed and stopped before more damage is done to the reputation of the Group. Gemma Stacey at Countrywide plc head office was notified about this case on 19 January, so the parent company had plenty of time to establish the facts and ensure the matter was dealt with properly.

When we first approached Shell senior management getting on to 20 years ago, they resorted to a cover-up, which led to our determined campaign against the company involving 6 high court actions, including two for libel, plus a county court action and proceedings by Shell through the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Shell has never won a single case and has been engulfed in negative publicity throughout this period. Carsons/Countrywide has set out on the same cover-up path.

I invite Carsons/Countrywide plc to issue defamation proceedings against me. Indeed, I challenge the company to do so. If Mr John Munday has made the claim attributed to him, let’s see if he is prepared to commit perjury in a sworn witness statement and repeat that perjury under oath in the witness box, where his evidence will be subjected to cross examination. Does he really want to run the risk of potential imprisonment if he is part of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, designed to evade responsibility for the financial consequences for the “terrible ordeal” suffered by my nephew (the unsolicited apt description given by Russell Mitten). His “terrible ordeal” arose from the gross negligence and/or reckless incompetence of Carsons/Countrywide plc employees.

Countrywide Plc: The UK’s largest estate agency and lettings network. 46 high street estate agent brands.

Abbotts Countrywide; Buckell & Ballard; Alan de Maid; Chappell & Matthews; Austin & Wyatt; Bairstow Eves Countrywide; Bridgfords; carsons; Dixons Estate Agents; Entwistle Green; Faron Sutaria; Frank Innes; Freeman Forman; Fulfords; Gascoigne-Pees; John D. Wood & Co; Mann Countrywide; Miller Countrywide; Morris Dibben; PS Palmer Snell; Countrywide Scotland; Geering & Colyer; Hetheringtons Countrywide; Slater Hogg & Howison; Spencers Countrywide; Stratton Creber Countrywide; Taylors Estate Agents; Watson Bull & Porter; Wilson Peacock Estate Agents; King & Chasemore; Lock & England; R A Bennett & Partners; Rentons Countrywide; SLM; Andrew Butler; HamptonsInternational

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