A small claim that fell out the window

THIS IS a very odd story of nuisance calls, the small claims court and the erratic behaviour of a small part of one of the biggest companies in Britain.

The company is the Bowater group, which has a subsidiary called Zenith Windows, and the victim is Brian Potts from Norwich - although victim is really the wrong word.

Mr Potts, a single parent who works as a psychiatric nurse, is well used to standing up for his rights. But this time, through no fault of his own, he lost out.

The one thing Mr Potts does not need is double-glazing; he had his house completely double-glazed only two years ago. So when a local company called Zenith Windows phoned him up out of the blue last Easter and asked if he was interested in buying double-glazing, Mr Potts said no.

Zenith did not give up. Over the next few weeks its representatives continued to call Mr Potts, even though he asked them not to. Eventually, he warned Zenith that if its representatives persisted in contacting him, he would charge the company pounds 25 per call.

Unfortunately, this seemed to make little difference. So when he received another Zenith call, he sent the company an invoice for pounds 25 along with a letter explaining that his charges had now increased to pounds 100 a call.

This did produce a response: Rodney Dalwyn-Jones, Zenith's marketing promotions manager, wrote back and apologised for the unwanted calls and promised that the company had taken 'positive steps' to ensure he was not contacted again. Two weeks later, he got another call.

Mr Potts then decided to carry out his threat. He sent a small claims court summons to Zenith for the pounds 25 he felt it now owed him. Mr Dalwyn-Jones replied to the summons, disputed the claim and said that Mr Potts's details 'have been removed from our records'. A few weeks later, there was yet another Zenith call.

And so, on 16 November, Mr Potts and Mr Dalwyn-Jones turned up at Norwich County Court to contest the case. The small-claims hearing lasted about 30 minutes. But just as the judge started summing up ('very much in my favour', according to Mr Potts), Mr Dalwyn-Jones intervened. He said the summons should not have been sent to him at Zenith Windows in Norwich - but to Bowater Windows in Solihull.

Zenith, Mr Dalwyn-Jones said, was just a trading name for Bowater Windows and he was not authorised to accept judgment on behalf of Bowater.

The judge ruled that the summons would have to be sent out again and the case heard again. And then something even stranger happened. Mr Dalwyn-Jones vanished off the scene, to be replaced by a group of solicitors acting on behalf of Bowater Windows.

They applied to the court with a request that the case be heard not at the small claims level but in the full county court. This was necessary, they said, because it involved a 'complex and novel area of law' with far-reaching implications for businesses such as Bowater. The judge who heard this application agreed with Bowater's solicitors: the case should be heard in the full county court.

For Mr Potts, this meant the end of his case, as he would be at a serious disadvantage in the county court without a solicitor. And if he lost, he could be liable for all Bowater Windows' legal costs.

So two weeks ago Mr Potts abandoned his action, though not before trying to find out exactly why Zenith's Mr Dalwyn-Jones had been leading him up the garden path.

This was when he discovered that despite writing Mr Potts several letters and turning up in court, Rodney Dalwyn-Jones does not exist.

As Bowater and Zenith eventually admitted, Rodney Dalwyn-Jones is a 'creation of the marketing department . . . It is normal in a marketing situation not to use real names to keep continuity and to personalise the marketing department. The procedure is used by many well-known companies'.

They added that 'there was no intention to deceive Mr Potts or Norwich county court'.

Perhaps not. But it is certainly very odd behaviour for a substantial company.

Mr Potts feels he has been badly treated by Zenith and Bowater. They told the BBC's Watchdog programme that they were sorry about what happened, though they refused to pay Mr Potts the pounds 125 he claims he is owed.

The irony is that they are probably right in law, if not in customer relations.

Keith Richards, a barrister at the Consumers' Association, thinks Mr Potts would have lost in the county court.

'It is very difficult for you to argue that you have a contract with a company just because you tell them you are going to charge them for ringing you up. There was no evidence that the company intended to enter into a contract for Mr Potts's services.'

People in Mr Potts's position should threaten a cold-caller not with the law of contract, but the law of nuisance. 'Then, if they phone again, take them to court, but do not put a figure on how much they owe you. It is entirely up to a court to decide the level of compensation you get.'

David Berry works for Watchdog.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living