Property company admits mistake over new homes play-area plans
PUBLISHED: 19:30 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 19:30 04 July 2019
Property developers Hopkins Homes has been ordered to pay £3,000 compensation after "a clerical error" resulted in potential buyers being misled into purchasing properties near an undeveloped green space where a children's play area was later built.
Norwich Crown Court heard the company was selling 119 properties at Kingfisher Place in Leiston, Suffolk.
The properties had been marketed as being close to an "undeveloped green area".
However the space, or at least part of it, was to be developed into a children's play area.
Kevin Barry, prosecuting, said three prospective buyers only found out about the plans after they had instructed solicitors, put their own homes up for sale and paid a £1,000 reservation fee.
Mr Barry said it was an "unusual case" which needed to be "viewed through the lens of a consumer protection framework".
He said "quite a high burden" was placed on traders dealing with consumers.
Mr Barry said all three prospective buyers had shown interest in the properties because of a number of factors, including being close to the "tranquil" and quiet "undeveloped green area".
Had they been aware Hopkins Homes were to develop that area then he said the interest would not have been there.
After the play area was developed complaints were received by Suffolk Trading Standards and a court case followed.
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Hopkins Homes admitted three counts of engaging in a commercial practice which was a misleading omission in relation to the properties.
Stephen Vullo QC, representing Hopkins Homes, said it was a "clerical error" and "in essence a photocopying error".
He said the company thought the pack included the play area on it but it did not.
He said each of the complainants had paid a £1,000 reservation fee but could have got all of it, or at least some of it, back had they wanted to as the firm was not taking part in "high pressure selling" as the properties were "selling themselves".
Mr Vullo said the company's reputation was "everything to them" and it had accepted "quite properly" that it made a "technical breach" - they weren't "tricking" people into buying properties but insisted there had been a "mistake".
He said the company had lodged £3,000 for each complainant with the prosecution as a "goodwill" gesture.
Judge Stephen Holt said it was a "very unusual case".
He said Hopkins Homes was a respected company which had never been convicted before of any offence.
But he accepted there had been an "error" and ordered the company to pay £1,000 to each complainant.
The company was also ordered to pay £15,000 costs by the judge, who acknowledged the firm had already offered to pay each complainant £3,000.
Speaking after the case a spokesman for Hopkins Hones said: "Full details of the size and location of the play-area were contained in the documents sent to the solicitors of all the customers in this case in advance of purchase.
"However, some of this information was omitted by mistake in some - but not all - of the initial marketing materials and we apologise for this. "All parties have accepted that this was an inadvertent mistake and there was no intention to mislead."