24/09/2013 Taro Naw


24/09/2013

Taro Naw investigates the business dealings of a director of building companies in west Wales. Taro Naw yn ymchwilio i weithredoedd busnes perchennog cwmniau adeiladu yng ngorllewin Cymru.


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Transcript


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Two year's ago this man's building company went bankrupt...

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..owing thousands of pounds in debts to dozens of people.

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Tonight, we'll hear from some who say...

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..they've been treated unfairly.

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Upset. Having to tell my parents.

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I was crying. I didn't have any money.

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There wasn't any money. Owen was alright but we didn't get a penny.

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His words were, "By hook or by crook, I will pay you back."

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We've heard nothing.

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We'll try and get some answers from the businessman.

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Mr Smart? Is Mr Smart here?

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Tonight on Taro 9, who pays the price...

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..when a construction company goes to the wall?

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The construction industry is a competitive world...

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..which employs one in ten people in Wales and England.

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In 2007, after working as a carpenter, Owen Smart...

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..a young man in his early 30s from the Llandeilo area...

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..set up a building company Conwen Construction.

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Among his sub-contractors was Terry Davies, a friend and local plumber.

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He was a good bloke at the start. He was a friend.

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I went to his wedding.

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I went to his children's birthday parties.

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We attended his daughter's christening.

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So over the years we were quite close.

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But after doing some plumbing work for Owen Smart for about a year...

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..Terry Davies suspected something was wrong.

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We did some work in Ammanford.

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The cheques were always bouncing.

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He'd always give them back.

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In the end we did get paid for the jobs in Ammanford...

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..but it took longer to get paid.

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In the summer of 2010, things went from bad to worse.

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In the end, we weren't paid at all.

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Since then, we've been chasing him for years to get something.

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The plumber wasn't the only one having trouble getting his money.

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Kevin Jones and his father Adrian experienced the same problems.

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Kevin was a labourer for Conwen for two years.

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He was a conscientious worker.

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I enjoyed work. I always turned up on time.

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Even on Saturdays and throughout the week.

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I'd be there on time. I'd work on for longer.

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But it appears that his efforts weren¹t recognised.

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From the end of July until November 2010...

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..Kevin Jones didn't receive a penny for his work for Conwen.

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I asked for money, and he¹d always say, "Next week, next week."

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Then one day he gave me a cheque. I thought, good.

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I took it to the bank and the bank sent it back because it bounced.

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I went back to Owen and I said the cheque had bounced.

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He told me to try again...

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..so that took two weeks and I still hadn¹t been paid.

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A month went by, and then the following month was the same.

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He¹d always say, "Next Friday", but he wouldn't turn up on the Friday.

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There was no money.

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But this wasn¹t the first time Kevin Jones had difficulty...

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..being paid by Owen Smart.

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It had happened before. But after a while he did give me the money.

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I thought the same thing would happen this time...

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..but after four months it was very difficult.

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Christmas was coming up and I was struggling.

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That struggle sometimes turned into tears...

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..and that broke his father¹s heart.

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I felt sorry for him because he was a good worker.

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He worked hard and put in the hours.

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He'd work his holidays...

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..and if he didn't feel well he'd still go into work.

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We'd see him come home without money, week after week...

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..and I knew myself that this had to end some time.

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Taro 9 investigated Conwen further.

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The only director was Owen Smart.

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The company website said it was a credible business...

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..within the industry.

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Here it is - Conwen Construction.

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Then you have the slogan Building a future on solid foundations.

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It goes on then to describe the company.

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"One of the leading privately-owned regional contractors...

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.."in South Wales with offices in Carmarthenshireº.

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Then, "Our commitment to the highest standards...

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.."of quality, value, customer service, and client satisfaction...

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.."is second to none and we are able to count the construction...

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.."of some of the finest buildings in the country...

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.."as part of our portfolio". But which ones?

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Conwen worked on this house in Gorslas near Cross Hands.

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Julie Wellard and her husband, Tom, had agreed a price...

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..with the builders for the work.

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Owen's wasn't the highest and it wasn't the lowest...

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..but it was one we thought was acceptable.

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Having seeing his work and spoken to him...

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..that's how we took him on to do the build.

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The Wellards paid Conwen periodically as the work continued.

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But a year into the project, Julie Wellard and her husband...

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..started to sense things weren't quite as they should be.

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In the beginning of 2011, we had a note put through the door...

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..of the old house where we living and it was from Nolan Windows...

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..asking if we could contact them.

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The windows and the doors were all in.

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My husband phoned them up and they said...

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.."We haven't been paid for your windows and doors".

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So, that was an alarm bell.

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By October 2011...

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..it was obvious Conwen Construction Ltd was in trouble.

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With debts of £300,000 to 44 creditors...

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..HM Revenue & Customs wound up the company.

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The company¹s fall was felt right across Carmarthenshire and beyond.

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Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire is home to many different businesses.

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Among them local businesses like Thomas & Thomas Hire Zone.

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Cross Hands Hydraulic Services and the well-known company, Leekes.

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These are all different companies...

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..but they¹ve got one thing in common.

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They're all on Conwen¹s list of creditors.

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For months before Conwen went to the wall...

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..Lliw Building Supplies from Pontardawe...

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..tried to claim a payment of £5,000.

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The owner, Geraint Llewelyn, faced an uphill struggle.

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To get hold of Owen Smart himself...

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..we've never been able to talk to him.

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He¹s impossible to talk to.

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When someone refuses to talk to you...

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..and they owe you thousands of pounds...

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..the only thing you can do is go through the courts...

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..and see if you can be paid through the courts.

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Conwen failed to respond to the court order.

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Lliw Building Supplies employed a debt collecting agency...

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..to chase the payment.

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We are chasing them. We've got everything on paper.

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Every call they made, every call we made.

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Despite that, we¹ve had no response by Owen Smart himself...

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..to anything.

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But Lliw Building Supplies weren¹t the only ones...

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..who were waiting for payment by Conwen.

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Four similar Carmarthenshire companies...

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..were on the list of creditors.

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One of those, UGS, now sold to Keyline...

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..was located on Cross Hands industrial estate.

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Conwen owed UGS more than £43,000.

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UGS has now been sold. The owner didn¹t want to appear on camera...

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..but told us Conwen had acted illegally.

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He said Conwen had been dealing with individuals and businesses...

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..at a time when it should have been apparent...

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..they didn't have the money to pay for the goods bought.

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An accountant who specialises in insolvency is Vaughan Jones.

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In his opinion it's difficult to prove a company...

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..has been trading illegally despite the creditors' suspicions.

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It happens frequently especially in the building industry.

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Creditors often ask us, as liquidators, this question.

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It's something we have to do research into a lot.

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As he worked on a house Owen Smart was building...

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..plumber Terry Davies sensed that the builder was in difficulties.

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But he had also been promised he'd be paid when the work was complete.

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I'd go into to finish a house.

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When he paid off the mortgage, the bank took a lot of the money...

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..but Owen took the money himself.

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The plumber usually billed another company...

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..Owen Smart and other directors had, Celtic Projects Ltd...

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..for the work he completed for the builder.

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But he said Owen Smart changed the usual arrangement.

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I met Owen and he said the money would go into Conwen Construction.

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I should invoice Conwen and I'd get paid quicker...

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..when the mortgage paid out.

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He put Conwen through, just after the mortgage got paid...

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..but then they said they didn't owe the money...

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..it was all to do with Conwen and nothing to do with Celtic.

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Terry Davies has told us he is still waiting for £11,000.

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But more than two years later he hasn¹t received a penny.

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This has come to the attention of the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP.

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At least 15 businesses and individuals have lost money...

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..at the expense of Conwen.

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Many of them haven't been included on the company's list of creditors.

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It appears the company's debts are thousands of pounds more...

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..than the recorded £300,000.

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We have to remember that in this case a lot of the traders...

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..are sole traders or individual companies...

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..with only a few people working for them.

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When you lose thousands of pounds...

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..it puts your company in a difficult position.

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After the break, we'll hear more about one father's battle...

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..to get justice for his son.

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I didn't think it was fair. If we could help, that's what we did.

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The shock this woman had after paying Conwen to build her home.

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It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over you.

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And what happens when I try to get answers...

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..from Owen Smart.

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.

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October 2011. Conwen Construction Ltd went bankrupt.

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It had debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Dozens of people were owed money.

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Kevin Jones used to be a labourer for the company.

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After being unpaid for four months his father said enough was enough.

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They went to the arbitration service, ACAS...

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..and took Conwen to an employment tribunal.

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The judge found in favour of Kevin.

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He worked out Kevin was owed around £4,000.

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We chased him up after this but ACAS said they'd taken us...

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..as far as they could, and they were sorry...

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..but they had to take a step back.

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From then we've tried to get the money.

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In March 2011, the tribunal said...

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..Conwen should pay Kevin Jones £4,300.

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Despite the effort, the labourer hasn't received a penny.

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We phoned him up and eventually he wouldn¹t answer.

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He changed his number and the only way we could get hold of him...

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..was to go to his house but he wouldn't answer.

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In Gorslas, Julie Wellard's home had been under construction...

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..for a year, and they were seeing less and less of Owen Smart.

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The frame was in place and an underground heating system...

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..had been installed by a company called Thermal Earth.

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I phoned the owner of Thermal Earth and he said...

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.."Are you sitting down, Mrs Wellard?"

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I said, "You haven't had any money?" "We've not had a penny."

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But the Wellards had given Owen Smart more than £12,000...

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..in January 2010 to pay two companies...

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..that had worked on the underground heating system.

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A year later, none of the companies had been paid.

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I was horrified.

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What's he done with it? He's not spent it on our build.

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Has he spent it on one of the others?

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It was complete horror, because it was a lot of money.

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Despite this, the Wellards agreed to directly pay the companies...

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..who'd completed the work. In all purposes, they had paid out twice.

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The couple then contacted Owen Smart and were promised...

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..he'd repay them £1,000 a month for six months.

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He emailed us and said we'd expect the first payment on 1st July 2011.

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On a regular monthly basis after that we texted or emailed...

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..and we were promised, "I'll see about it."

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But it just didn't come. Nothing came at all.

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The Wellards paid another builder to finish the work for them.

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The questions continue about what exactly Owen Smart did...

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..with the £12,000 the Wellards paid him.

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But one thing is certain, he didn't pass the money on...

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..to the companies who needed to be paid.

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So legally, was this fraud?

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There is an element of fraud.

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Under the Insolvency Act there is illegal trading...

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..but there is also fraudulent trading.

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One case is not usually considered enough evidence...

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..to bring forward a case of fraudulent trading.

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But the local MP has called on the authorities to investigate...

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..in order to find out where the money has gone.

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I think she has acted appropriately.

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The contractor has behaved immorally.

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I think the evidence from this case will interest...

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..the official receiver during their investigation.

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When Conwen started to buy building materials...

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..from Lliw Building Supplies, Owen Smart worked as a sole trader.

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But in July 2009, Geraint Llewelyn received a letter from Owen Smart..

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..saying he'd changed Conwen¹s status to a limited company.

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As an individual who owed money to a company like ours and others...

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..everything he owned such as the house and everything else...

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..could be taken away from him in order for him to repay that debt.

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As a limited company, there's limited liabilities...

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...so the law can't seize property from him personally...

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..because he can say...

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.."That belongs to the company, not me."

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At one time, Conwen Construction bought a lot from the yard.

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But since September 2010, Lliw Building Supplies...

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..haven't received a penny from Conwen. They¹re owed £5,000.

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We received a letter from the insolvency agency to say...

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..there wasn't any money in Conwen Construction at all...

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..and we wouldn't be receiving a penny, nor would anyone else.

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On the other hand, people are telling me...

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..that Mr Smart is living the high life.

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Owen Smart's family home is a renovated farmhouse...

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..in Llandyfan near Ammanford.

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The builder pays for private schooling for his son.

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This was the photo posted on Facebook by Owen Smart's wife...

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...of the view they had while on holiday last year.

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It seems the family have also just come back from Portugal.

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This image of a luxurious lifestyle has angered those...

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..still waiting for their money. People like Terry Davies.

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Over the years, they were documenting their holidays.

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Not just once a year, but three or four times a year.

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They'd go to London and spend £400 on food at Ramsay's Kitchen.

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They've been spending our money over the years.

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Taro 9's investigations have found that 12 companies...

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..have succeeded in obtaining court orders to claim...

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..what's rightfully theirs from Conwen. It totals £90,000.

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Three other companies have obtained orders...

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..against Celtic Projects Ltd one of Owen Smart's other companies...

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..but none of the companies have been paid.

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What rights do they have to get their money?

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It is almost impossible for the creditors to do anything directly.

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They need to ask bailiffs to go after it.

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Right across the country, the construction industry...

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..has suffered during the recent recession.

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In 2011, there was a 20% drop in new housing built in Britain.

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When a business like this goes to the wall...

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..Owen Smart might say that's the nature of business.

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People take risks and sometimes things go wrong.

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How would you respond to that?

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If he had sold the house and had struggled himself...

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..and lost everything it wouldn't be so bad...

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..because he'd be trying to sort things out.

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He still lives in his big house, he's got a nice car...

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..and they haven't changed their lifestyle at all.

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Back in Pontardawe, Lliw Building Supplies are continuing...

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..in their fight to get their money.

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Geraint Llewelyn has employed bailiffs to chase the debt...

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..but he¹s still waiting for his £5,000.

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I think the law is totally wrong.

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It makes it very difficult to get people like Owen Smart to pay.

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If he doesn't want to pay, he won't pay.

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It hasn't got much to do whether they can afford to pay or not.

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If they don't want to pay, they simply won't.

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Taro 9 wanted to know what state Mr Smart's other companies were in.

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Getting the accounts was impossible.

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Celtic Projects Ltd hasn't registered its annual accounts...

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..to Companies House in Cardiff since 2010, which is illegal.

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In June it was suggested that the company name should be removed...

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..from the register and wound up.

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Taro 9 has since learned that process has been halted...

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..and Companies House is investigating further.

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But it doesn't appear that Mr Smart has had any problems...

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..in establishing a new business despite the fact...

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..that he owes thousands of pounds to businesses and individuals.

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In October 2011, Conwen Construction Ltd was wound up...

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..by HM Revenue & Customs.

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Less than a month later, Owen Smart had registered a new company...

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..here at Companies House, Quantum Civil and Construction Ltd.

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Quantum's accounts were supposed to have been submitted in August.

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Companies House still haven't received them.

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The local MP says the authorities should investigate...

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..Owen Smart's companies in detail especially Conwen Construction Ltd.

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It is essential the official receiver in this case...

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..investigates to see whether Mr Smart's company...

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..has broken the law, and if it has, to take action.

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Jonathan Edwards has written to the Business Secretary Vince Cable...

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..describing his constituents' fight to get the money from Conwen.

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Tonight, he's calling for a parliamentary inquiry...

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..to make it more difficult for company owners...

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..to turn their backs on their debt.

0:21:330:21:35

I think a Commons committee should investigate this...

0:21:360:21:39

..to see if there are further examples...

0:21:390:21:42

..that this isn't an isolated case and whether it's widespread...

0:21:420:21:46

..in the economy.

0:21:460:21:48

It's essential that the government acts to make sure...

0:21:480:21:51

..these loopholes are closed.

0:21:520:21:54

Owen Smart denies doing anything wrong.

0:21:550:21:58

Last week, we tried to tack him down...

0:21:580:22:01

..in order to get some answers from the builder.

0:22:010:22:04

Mr Smart? Is Mr Smart here? Is he on site?

0:22:050:22:08

Due back today but not here at the moment?

0:22:080:22:12

We asked the men if they knew when Owen Smart would be back.

0:22:130:22:16

No.

0:22:170:22:18

We know now, the man sitting in the background here is Owen Smart.

0:22:180:22:23

Later in the afternoon his van left the site. He wasn't driving.

0:22:230:22:28

It appears he was hiding in the back.

0:22:280:22:31

After that, Owen Smart contacted Taro 9.

0:22:310:22:35

He said he'd promised to pay off Conwen Construction's debts.

0:22:350:22:41

Due to the recession the company had gone to the wall.

0:22:410:22:45

He hadn't paid off his creditors because settling some bills...

0:22:450:22:49

..would be seen as favouritism.

0:22:490:22:51

But there was no explanation why so many debts remain unpaid...

0:22:520:22:56

..why so many people had to go to court...

0:22:560:22:58

..and why he wouldn't pay the creditors out of his own pocket.

0:22:590:23:03

In Gorslas, Julie Wellard is coping with life on her own.

0:23:030:23:07

Her husband died without receiving a penny...

0:23:070:23:10

..of what Owen Smart owed him.

0:23:100:23:13

If I was in Owen Smart's position, I wouldn't want to live here.

0:23:130:23:17

I would be ashamed to show my face.

0:23:180:23:22

The widow doesn't think she'll get any of the money...

0:23:220:23:26

..Owen Smart promised to pay back.

0:23:260:23:28

What would your message be to someone who may have...

0:23:280:23:33

..future business dealings with Owen Smart?

0:23:330:23:36

I would say find yourself another builder.

0:23:370:23:41

Others have made similar warnings of being out of pocket...

0:23:420:23:46

after dealing with Owen Smart.

0:23:460:23:49

Don't give him a penny.

0:23:470:23:49

And I mean a penny. And don't touch him with a bargepole!

0:23:490:23:55

He looks nice enough and he says, "Yeah, yeah".

0:23:560:23:59

But it¹s always, "No, no, no".

0:23:590:24:02

Terry Davies and Owen Smart are no longer friends.

0:24:030:24:08

The debt still remains.

0:24:080:24:12

I hope he loses everything.

0:24:120:24:14

His house, the business - everything.

0:24:140:24:18

So he'll have to go back and start from the bottom...

0:24:180:24:21

..just like everyone else.

0:24:210:24:23

Are you being hard on him?

0:24:240:24:26

No.

0:24:250:24:26

He's been much harder on everyone else.

0:24:260:24:30

He deserves everything he gets.

0:24:300:24:33

S4C subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:24:540:24:57

.

0:24:570:24:57

Taro Naw investigates the business dealings of a director of building companies in west Wales. Bydd Taro Naw yn ymchwilio i weithredoedd busnes perchennog cwmniau adeiladu yng ngorllewin Cymru.


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