Double fault over Jim's rackets: Sue Fieldman meets a businessman with a deuce of a problem

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JIM JORDAN is a reasonable kind of chap. But, when he discovered that a multi-million-pound insurance company had taken away and sold 12 of his tennis rackets to satisfy a debt owed by a third party, he thought the company could not be serious.

The rackets are worth more than pounds 1,000 - a drop in the ocean to the insurance company, the mighty Norwich Union, but a huge amount to Mr Jordan, who has recently started up in business.

Mr Jordan is the innocent victim of an archaic law that everyone admits is in urgent need of reform. Meanwhile, thousands of others could be stung for losses through no fault of their own.

Mr Jordan's company, Hawaiian Leisure and Sports, is the European supplier of Mad Raq Tennis rackets. Mr Jordan agreed to supply 12 to a sports shop in Horsham, West Sussex.

The agreement contained a retention of title clause - the ownership of the rackets remains with Mr Jordan until the shop pays for them. The invoice was for pounds 1,190.

The first Mr Jordan knew that anything was wrong was when he telephoned the shop chasing payment. He said: 'The owner said he owed the landlord rent. The bailiffs had gone in on behalf of the landlord and taken the stock.'

Mr Jordan asked his solicitor to contact the bailiffs to get his rackets back, but to no avail. The bailiffs went ahead and sold the rackets at an auction.

He has no idea how much they were sold for. He is also at a complete loss to understand how the law could allow Norwich Union to seize his rackets for a debt owed by someone else, sell them against his wishes and pocket the proceeds - all without a court order.

Mr Jordan's solicitor, John Hill, of Shoosmiths & Harrison, said: 'The law is very old indeed and long overdue for repeal or modernisation.

'The general rule is that, if goods are supplied to a shop and are on open display, as far as the landlord is concerned they are the property of the tenant and are available for the landlord to distrain on for any rent due to him.'

John Samson, property partner with the solicitors Nabarro Nathanson, said landlords were increasingly using the remedy of distress.

'More landlords have woken up to the fact that it is extremely useful, as you do not need a court order' he added. 'As soon as the rent is in arrears you can send in the bailiffs to seize virtually all the goods on the premises.

'But the remedy is now out of line with common business practices. It is unusual these days for everything on your premises to be yours for the taking.'

The Law Commission recently recommended abolition of the remedy of distress for rent arrears.

Meanwhile, the ball is firmly in Norwich Union's court. Will it do the gentlemanly thing and reimburse Mr Jordan for the value of his tennis rackets?

A spokesman for Norwich Union said he was unable to get sufficient information to comment on exactly what happened.

'Hawaiian did make a declaration as to title to the bailiffs and claimed title to 12 tennis rackets,' he said. 'But it is necessary not just to make a declaration but to show why it claimed title.

'If its solicitors would now like to contact our solicitors that is the best way for things to proceed.'

We intend to return to this story shortly to see if Norwich Union gives Mr Jordan any money back. Meanwhile, the sooner the law is reformed the better.

(Photograph omitted)

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