Police investigate property champion

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The Independent Online
THE POLICE are investigating the activities of the International Property Owners Organisation, a consumer advice operation set up with the aim of championing the rights of people who owned holiday homes abroad, writes Maria Scott.

Detective Constable Trevor Niven of the Metropolitan Police Company Fraud Office said he had received complaints from former clients of the organisation, known as Ipoo, and was looking into them.

Ipoo was set up in 1988 by Sandra Lewin. No accounts were filed with Companies House after it was incorporated and Mrs Lewin was fined for this last April.

Mrs Lewin made a name for herself as a crusader for British property owners, especially people who had encountered difficulties in Spain. Mrs Lewin offered to organise legal action for people in dispute with Spanish property companies, in return for fees.

The organisation ceased trading last November amid allegations from former clients that they had given Mrs Lewin thousands of pounds to work on their cases, yet little progress had been made.

Among the aggrieved clients were some members of the Association for the Defence of Parque Albatross, a property owners' action group, and some of these people have made statements to Detective Constable Niven. They say they gave Mrs Lewin pounds 1,000 each.

The agreement was to pay pounds 500 in advance, with the remainder to be paid when the case went to court. Most members paid the second pounds 500 on the understanding that the case had gone to the Spanish court but discovered it had not.

The grievances were highlighted in the Independent on Sunday in December.

The Department of Trade and Industry has also received complaints about Ipoo and is understood to have investigated, although apparently no action has been taken. The DTI will not comment on investigations like this.

Mrs Lewin said this week that she had heard nothing from the DTI, nor from the police. She continued to defend Ipoo's services, stating that all money given to her was used properly and that her clients did not necessarily understand the amount of time and cost involved in pursuing their cases.

Edward McMillan-Scott, Conservative MEP for York, had close contacts with Ipoo and Mrs Lewin, although no formal link. However, he was patron of a timeshare consumers' organisation that merged with Ipoo and has now resigned this position.

He said he felt it was no longer proper to be associated with her because she had not filed accounts with Companies House.

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