CONSUMER: Furious Portsmouth mum ‘left in the lurch’ after £5,700 camper van conks out on first journey

Natasha Saunders and her son Finley   Picture: Malcolm Wells
Natasha Saunders and her son Finley Picture: Malcolm Wells

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Single Portsmouth mum-of-two Natasha Saunders found herself on the road to nowhere after she paid a controversial motor dealer £5,700 for a converted ambulance to take her autistic son on holiday.

She says although the converted camper she bought from Surf and Camper Conversions boss Allan Brookes looked the part, the engine was clapped out and blew up along Portsmouth’s Eastern Road just an hour after she drove it from his workshop last March.

Natasha Saunders' converted camper van

Natasha Saunders' converted camper van

A furious Natasha says she was left in the lurch for five months battling to get an unroadworthy vehicle repaired, but Mr Brookes refused to guarantee the work or give her a receipt for her money.

The 41-year-old told Streetwise she saw an advertisement for the Waterlooville firm on Facebook.

She said: ‘I trusted him because one of my lads is autistic, so we don’t go on holiday. When I explained the situation to Mr Brookes he said he had an ambulance I could buy off him for £3,000 and have it converted to a camper.

‘I paid the cost of the conversion in instalments and it was ready shortly before Easter.

‘When the head gasket blew he said he’d put a reconditioned engine in for me, but it came back a few days later and I couldn’t even get it to start.

‘He promised he’d get it fixed but all I kept getting was numerous texts complaining he’d been unable to source a replacement and he was looking for a cheap engine on eBay. As he’d be out of pocket he didn’t see why he should give me a guarantee or any compensation.

‘I didn’t get it back until the beginning of September when, within a few days, I noticed the battery wasn’t charging and the handbrake didn’t work.’

‘My autistic son was so looking forward to his day trips out and a summer holiday, but he’s been bitterly disappointed and our summer plans have been ruined.’

Natasha called in Streetwise to help because she was at the end of her tether.

But our initial background checks suggested Natasha’s complaint was just the tip of the iceberg.

Streetwise can reveal Allan Brooks, 55, is at the centre of a storm of complaints with allegations of dodgy van conversions and defective motors.

Buyers claim they’ve handed thousands of pounds over to him, and that he has a history of ignoring their complaints and turning his back on them.

Further enquiries revealed he had previously advertised on Facebook as Just Vitos, but it was removed last year after dozens of complaints emerged about shoddy workmanship and demands from infuriated customers for refunds or repairs.

Horror stories surfaced of refurbished or converted vans sold by Just Vitos which reflected Natasha’s experience.

Furious customers claimed that their motors broke down only a few miles after driving them from his workshop, and subsequently discovered they were plagued with a catalogue of problems.

Streetwise also discovered a number of outraged customers had taken him to court, and there were unsatisfied County Court Judgements (CCJs) on file totalling £9,644 – with more in the pipeline.

Company director Robert Kreisler, from Cheshire, says he trusted Brookes with a £10,000 Mercedes renovation job.

He says he finally resorted to sending in High Court bailiffs after getting a court judgement in his favour, but still hasn’t been paid.

We asked Mr Brookes to comment about Natasha’s complaint, and the number of complaints he’d received from dissatisfied customers.

We pointed out the 2015 Consumer Rights Act legally obliged him to provide Natasha with a vehicle that was roadworthy. It was as plain as a pikestaff he hadn’t complied with his legal obligations, and there were still unresolved problems with it.

She’d been left in the lurch for months with an undriveableable camper that she’d paid the best part of £6,000 for and was insisting he provided her with a three-month guarantee.

But in two long rambling e-mails to Streetwise he agreed to provide her with a receipt, but declined to comment about the number of complaints and CCJs piling up against him.

Instead he claimed although he’d made mistakes in the past he’d spent £1,500 and bent over backwards to get Natasha’s camper’s clapped-out engine repaired, but wasn’t prepared to offer her a warranty. If he’d known about other faults, he’d have put them right.

We were concerned that the problems with the handbrake and electrics indicated ongoing issues of safety and driveability which needed to be investigated. We advised her to have the van MOTd and inspected by a qualified engineer to ensure it was safe to drive.

An angry Natasha said: ‘I trusted him and that was my downfall. I feel I’ve been let down and I’m absolutely disgusted with the man. My kids could be put in danger.

‘He may have said he bent over backwards but he’d had it five months. The whole point was to have a summer holiday for my boys, but I’ve spent all that money and they’ve literally had nothing.

‘I’ve got a mechanic that I trust who’s been able to fix the handbrake for me, but he’s agreed to look over the van and I’m just hoping it’s not a write-off.

I’m a single mum and I get nothing. He’s broken me. I’m now skint after working my butt off for my kids. I don’t believe I’ll ever get any money out of him to fix it.’

Streetwise contacted Hampshire trading standards to confirm whether they were investigating the numerous complaints made about Mr Brooks, but they claimed the law prevented them from making any disclosure in the public interest.

A spokesperson said: The Enterprise Act 2002 prohibits Hampshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service being able to confirm or deny whether any complaints have been received about a company or individual.

‘However, if consumers have any concerns about a business they should report them to Hampshire County Council Trading Standards by contacting the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.’