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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Two year's ago this man's building company went bankrupt...
..owing thousands of pounds in debts to dozens of people.
Tonight, we'll hear from some who say...
..they've been treated unfairly.
Upset. Having to tell my parents.
I was crying. I didn't have any money.
There wasn't any money. Owen was alright but we didn't get a penny.
His words were, "By hook or by crook, I will pay you back."
We've heard nothing.
We'll try and get some answers from the businessman.
Mr Smart? Is Mr Smart here?
Tonight on Taro 9, who pays the price...
..when a construction company goes to the wall?
The construction industry is a competitive world...
..which employs one in ten people in Wales and England.
In 2007, after working as a carpenter, Owen Smart...
..a young man in his early 30s from the Llandeilo area...
..set up a building company Conwen Construction.
Among his sub-contractors was Terry Davies, a friend and local plumber.
He was a good bloke at the start. He was a friend.
I went to his wedding.
I went to his children's birthday parties.
We attended his daughter's christening.
So over the years we were quite close.
But after doing some plumbing work for Owen Smart for about a year...
..Terry Davies suspected something was wrong.
We did some work in Ammanford.
The cheques were always bouncing.
He'd always give them back.
In the end we did get paid for the jobs in Ammanford...
..but it took longer to get paid.
In the summer of 2010, things went from bad to worse.
In the end, we weren't paid at all.
Since then, we've been chasing him for years to get something.
The plumber wasn't the only one having trouble getting his money.
Kevin Jones and his father Adrian experienced the same problems.
Kevin was a labourer for Conwen for two years.
He was a conscientious worker.
I enjoyed work. I always turned up on time.
Even on Saturdays and throughout the week.
I'd be there on time. I'd work on for longer.
But it appears that his efforts weren¹t recognised.
From the end of July until November 2010...
..Kevin Jones didn't receive a penny for his work for Conwen.
I asked for money, and he¹d always say, "Next week, next week."
Then one day he gave me a cheque. I thought, good.
I took it to the bank and the bank sent it back because it bounced.
I went back to Owen and I said the cheque had bounced.
He told me to try again...
..so that took two weeks and I still hadn¹t been paid.
A month went by, and then the following month was the same.
He¹d always say, "Next Friday", but he wouldn't turn up on the Friday.
There was no money.
But this wasn¹t the first time Kevin Jones had difficulty...
..being paid by Owen Smart.
It had happened before. But after a while he did give me the money.
I thought the same thing would happen this time...
..but after four months it was very difficult.
Christmas was coming up and I was struggling.
That struggle sometimes turned into tears...
..and that broke his father¹s heart.
I felt sorry for him because he was a good worker.
He worked hard and put in the hours.
He'd work his holidays...
..and if he didn't feel well he'd still go into work.
We'd see him come home without money, week after week...
..and I knew myself that this had to end some time.
Taro 9 investigated Conwen further.
The only director was Owen Smart.
The company website said it was a credible business...
..within the industry.
Here it is - Conwen Construction.
Then you have the slogan Building a future on solid foundations.
It goes on then to describe the company.
"One of the leading privately-owned regional contractors...
.."in South Wales with offices in Carmarthenshireº.
Then, "Our commitment to the highest standards...
.."of quality, value, customer service, and client satisfaction...
.."is second to none and we are able to count the construction...
.."of some of the finest buildings in the country...
.."as part of our portfolio". But which ones?
Conwen worked on this house in Gorslas near Cross Hands.
Julie Wellard and her husband, Tom, had agreed a price...
..with the builders for the work.
Owen's wasn't the highest and it wasn't the lowest...
..but it was one we thought was acceptable.
Having seeing his work and spoken to him...
..that's how we took him on to do the build.
The Wellards paid Conwen periodically as the work continued.
But a year into the project, Julie Wellard and her husband...
..started to sense things weren't quite as they should be.
In the beginning of 2011, we had a note put through the door...
..of the old house where we living and it was from Nolan Windows...
..asking if we could contact them.
The windows and the doors were all in.
My husband phoned them up and they said...
.."We haven't been paid for your windows and doors".
So, that was an alarm bell.
By October 2011...
..it was obvious Conwen Construction Ltd was in trouble.
With debts of £300,000 to 44 creditors...
..HM Revenue & Customs wound up the company.
The company¹s fall was felt right across Carmarthenshire and beyond.
Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire is home to many different businesses.
Among them local businesses like Thomas & Thomas Hire Zone.
Cross Hands Hydraulic Services and the well-known company, Leekes.
These are all different companies...
..but they¹ve got one thing in common.
They're all on Conwen¹s list of creditors.
For months before Conwen went to the wall...
..Lliw Building Supplies from Pontardawe...
..tried to claim a payment of £5,000.
The owner, Geraint Llewelyn, faced an uphill struggle.
To get hold of Owen Smart himself...
..we've never been able to talk to him.
He¹s impossible to talk to.
When someone refuses to talk to you...
..and they owe you thousands of pounds...
..the only thing you can do is go through the courts...
..and see if you can be paid through the courts.
Conwen failed to respond to the court order.
Lliw Building Supplies employed a debt collecting agency...
..to chase the payment.
We are chasing them. We've got everything on paper.
Every call they made, every call we made.
Despite that, we¹ve had no response by Owen Smart himself...
But Lliw Building Supplies weren¹t the only ones...
..who were waiting for payment by Conwen.
Four similar Carmarthenshire companies...
..were on the list of creditors.
One of those, UGS, now sold to Keyline...
..was located on Cross Hands industrial estate.
Conwen owed UGS more than £43,000.
UGS has now been sold. The owner didn¹t want to appear on camera...
..but told us Conwen had acted illegally.
He said Conwen had been dealing with individuals and businesses...
..at a time when it should have been apparent...
..they didn't have the money to pay for the goods bought.
An accountant who specialises in insolvency is Vaughan Jones.
In his opinion it's difficult to prove a company...
..has been trading illegally despite the creditors' suspicions.
It happens frequently especially in the building industry.
Creditors often ask us, as liquidators, this question.
It's something we have to do research into a lot.
As he worked on a house Owen Smart was building...
..plumber Terry Davies sensed that the builder was in difficulties.
But he had also been promised he'd be paid when the work was complete.
I'd go into to finish a house.
When he paid off the mortgage, the bank took a lot of the money...
..but Owen took the money himself.
The plumber usually billed another company...
..Owen Smart and other directors had, Celtic Projects Ltd...
..for the work he completed for the builder.
But he said Owen Smart changed the usual arrangement.
I met Owen and he said the money would go into Conwen Construction.
I should invoice Conwen and I'd get paid quicker...
..when the mortgage paid out.
He put Conwen through, just after the mortgage got paid...
..but then they said they didn't owe the money...
..it was all to do with Conwen and nothing to do with Celtic.
Terry Davies has told us he is still waiting for £11,000.
But more than two years later he hasn¹t received a penny.
This has come to the attention of the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP.
At least 15 businesses and individuals have lost money...
..at the expense of Conwen.
Many of them haven't been included on the company's list of creditors.
It appears the company's debts are thousands of pounds more...
..than the recorded £300,000.
We have to remember that in this case a lot of the traders...
..are sole traders or individual companies...
..with only a few people working for them.
When you lose thousands of pounds...
..it puts your company in a difficult position.
After the break, we'll hear more about one father's battle...
..to get justice for his son.
I didn't think it was fair. If we could help, that's what we did.
The shock this woman had after paying Conwen to build her home.
It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over you.
And what happens when I try to get answers...
..from Owen Smart.
October 2011. Conwen Construction Ltd went bankrupt.
It had debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Dozens of people were owed money.
Kevin Jones used to be a labourer for the company.
After being unpaid for four months his father said enough was enough.
They went to the arbitration service, ACAS...
..and took Conwen to an employment tribunal.
The judge found in favour of Kevin.
He worked out Kevin was owed around £4,000.
We chased him up after this but ACAS said they'd taken us...
..as far as they could, and they were sorry...
..but they had to take a step back.
From then we've tried to get the money.
In March 2011, the tribunal said...
..Conwen should pay Kevin Jones £4,300.
Despite the effort, the labourer hasn't received a penny.
We phoned him up and eventually he wouldn¹t answer.
He changed his number and the only way we could get hold of him...
..was to go to his house but he wouldn't answer.
In Gorslas, Julie Wellard's home had been under construction...
..for a year, and they were seeing less and less of Owen Smart.
The frame was in place and an underground heating system...
..had been installed by a company called Thermal Earth.
I phoned the owner of Thermal Earth and he said...
.."Are you sitting down, Mrs Wellard?"
I said, "You haven't had any money?" "We've not had a penny."
But the Wellards had given Owen Smart more than £12,000...
..in January 2010 to pay two companies...
..that had worked on the underground heating system.
A year later, none of the companies had been paid.
I was horrified.
What's he done with it? He's not spent it on our build.
Has he spent it on one of the others?
It was complete horror, because it was a lot of money.
Despite this, the Wellards agreed to directly pay the companies...
..who'd completed the work. In all purposes, they had paid out twice.
The couple then contacted Owen Smart and were promised...
..he'd repay them £1,000 a month for six months.
He emailed us and said we'd expect the first payment on 1st July 2011.
On a regular monthly basis after that we texted or emailed...
..and we were promised, "I'll see about it."
But it just didn't come. Nothing came at all.
The Wellards paid another builder to finish the work for them.
The questions continue about what exactly Owen Smart did...
..with the £12,000 the Wellards paid him.
But one thing is certain, he didn't pass the money on...
..to the companies who needed to be paid.
So legally, was this fraud?
There is an element of fraud.
Under the Insolvency Act there is illegal trading...
..but there is also fraudulent trading.
One case is not usually considered enough evidence...
..to bring forward a case of fraudulent trading.
But the local MP has called on the authorities to investigate...
..in order to find out where the money has gone.
I think she has acted appropriately.
The contractor has behaved immorally.
I think the evidence from this case will interest...
..the official receiver during their investigation.
When Conwen started to buy building materials...
..from Lliw Building Supplies, Owen Smart worked as a sole trader.
But in July 2009, Geraint Llewelyn received a letter from Owen Smart..
..saying he'd changed Conwen¹s status to a limited company.
As an individual who owed money to a company like ours and others...
..everything he owned such as the house and everything else...
..could be taken away from him in order for him to repay that debt.
As a limited company, there's limited liabilities...
...so the law can't seize property from him personally...
..because he can say...
.."That belongs to the company, not me."
At one time, Conwen Construction bought a lot from the yard.
But since September 2010, Lliw Building Supplies...
..haven't received a penny from Conwen. They¹re owed £5,000.
We received a letter from the insolvency agency to say...
..there wasn't any money in Conwen Construction at all...
..and we wouldn't be receiving a penny, nor would anyone else.
On the other hand, people are telling me...
..that Mr Smart is living the high life.
Owen Smart's family home is a renovated farmhouse...
..in Llandyfan near Ammanford.
The builder pays for private schooling for his son.
This was the photo posted on Facebook by Owen Smart's wife...
...of the view they had while on holiday last year.
It seems the family have also just come back from Portugal.
This image of a luxurious lifestyle has angered those...
..still waiting for their money. People like Terry Davies.
Over the years, they were documenting their holidays.
Not just once a year, but three or four times a year.
They'd go to London and spend £400 on food at Ramsay's Kitchen.
They've been spending our money over the years.
Taro 9's investigations have found that 12 companies...
..have succeeded in obtaining court orders to claim...
..what's rightfully theirs from Conwen. It totals £90,000.
Three other companies have obtained orders...
..against Celtic Projects Ltd one of Owen Smart's other companies...
..but none of the companies have been paid.
What rights do they have to get their money?
It is almost impossible for the creditors to do anything directly.
They need to ask bailiffs to go after it.
Right across the country, the construction industry...
..has suffered during the recent recession.
In 2011, there was a 20% drop in new housing built in Britain.
When a business like this goes to the wall...
..Owen Smart might say that's the nature of business.
People take risks and sometimes things go wrong.
How would you respond to that?
If he had sold the house and had struggled himself...
..and lost everything it wouldn't be so bad...
..because he'd be trying to sort things out.
He still lives in his big house, he's got a nice car...
..and they haven't changed their lifestyle at all.
Back in Pontardawe, Lliw Building Supplies are continuing...
..in their fight to get their money.
Geraint Llewelyn has employed bailiffs to chase the debt...
..but he¹s still waiting for his £5,000.
I think the law is totally wrong.
It makes it very difficult to get people like Owen Smart to pay.
If he doesn't want to pay, he won't pay.
It hasn't got much to do whether they can afford to pay or not.
If they don't want to pay, they simply won't.
Taro 9 wanted to know what state Mr Smart's other companies were in.
Getting the accounts was impossible.
Celtic Projects Ltd hasn't registered its annual accounts...
..to Companies House in Cardiff since 2010, which is illegal.
In June it was suggested that the company name should be removed...
..from the register and wound up.
Taro 9 has since learned that process has been halted...
..and Companies House is investigating further.
But it doesn't appear that Mr Smart has had any problems...
..in establishing a new business despite the fact...
..that he owes thousands of pounds to businesses and individuals.
In October 2011, Conwen Construction Ltd was wound up...
..by HM Revenue & Customs.
Less than a month later, Owen Smart had registered a new company...
..here at Companies House, Quantum Civil and Construction Ltd.
Quantum's accounts were supposed to have been submitted in August.
Companies House still haven't received them.
The local MP says the authorities should investigate...
..Owen Smart's companies in detail especially Conwen Construction Ltd.
It is essential the official receiver in this case...
..investigates to see whether Mr Smart's company...
..has broken the law, and if it has, to take action.
Jonathan Edwards has written to the Business Secretary Vince Cable...
..describing his constituents' fight to get the money from Conwen.
Tonight, he's calling for a parliamentary inquiry...
..to make it more difficult for company owners...
..to turn their backs on their debt.
I think a Commons committee should investigate this...
..to see if there are further examples...
..that this isn't an isolated case and whether it's widespread...
..in the economy.
It's essential that the government acts to make sure...
..these loopholes are closed.
Owen Smart denies doing anything wrong.
Last week, we tried to tack him down...
..in order to get some answers from the builder.
Mr Smart? Is Mr Smart here? Is he on site?
Due back today but not here at the moment?
We asked the men if they knew when Owen Smart would be back.
We know now, the man sitting in the background here is Owen Smart.
Later in the afternoon his van left the site. He wasn't driving.
It appears he was hiding in the back.
After that, Owen Smart contacted Taro 9.
He said he'd promised to pay off Conwen Construction's debts.
Due to the recession the company had gone to the wall.
He hadn't paid off his creditors because settling some bills...
..would be seen as favouritism.
But there was no explanation why so many debts remain unpaid...
..why so many people had to go to court...
..and why he wouldn't pay the creditors out of his own pocket.
In Gorslas, Julie Wellard is coping with life on her own.
Her husband died without receiving a penny...
..of what Owen Smart owed him.
If I was in Owen Smart's position, I wouldn't want to live here.
I would be ashamed to show my face.
The widow doesn't think she'll get any of the money...
..Owen Smart promised to pay back.
What would your message be to someone who may have...
..future business dealings with Owen Smart?
I would say find yourself another builder.
Others have made similar warnings of being out of pocket...
after dealing with Owen Smart.
Don't give him a penny.
And I mean a penny. And don't touch him with a bargepole!
He looks nice enough and he says, "Yeah, yeah".
But it¹s always, "No, no, no".
Terry Davies and Owen Smart are no longer friends.
The debt still remains.
I hope he loses everything.
His house, the business - everything.
So he'll have to go back and start from the bottom...
..just like everyone else.
Are you being hard on him?
He's been much harder on everyone else.
He deserves everything he gets.
S4C subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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.