Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Kitchen boss cleared of defrauding customers in Oldham

Vance Miller

Vance Miller speaks after he is cleared at Manchester Crown Crown of conspiracy to commit fraud and making false representation

A senior council official has been suspended after a "flawed" case against the boss of a multimillion-pound kitchen firm was thrown out of court.

Oldham Council's trading standards department faces a £4m bill after a judge at Manchester Crown Court dropped all charges against Vance Miller.

The Ramsbottom businessman was cleared of conspiracy to commit fraud and making false representation.

Judge Jonathan Foster said the case was "flawed from the start".

The inquiry, which the council has claimed to be the the biggest ever by a trading standards department, was "over-zealous, oppressive" and many materials used in his kitchens were not analysed properly, he told the court.

'Witch hunt'

He also heavily criticised the head of trading standards, Tony Allen, for being an unreliable witness.

At one point he could not locate e-mails that were valuable to the case because he had recycled his computer and they had disappeared.

Oldham Council has confirmed a senior council official has been suspended but refused to confirm who it was.

We are disappointed by the judge's decision, but this was an extremely complex and ground-breaking case
Charlie Parker, Oldham Council's chief executive

Since 2006, trading standards raided Mr Miller's business three times, with more than 200 officers seizing goods and thousands of documents.

Mr Miller, who defended himself through his 16-week trial, said he was going to sue the local authority after losing millions of pounds in business and added he was not surprised by the verdict.

He said it was a "justified wait".

"Oldham trading standards brought this prosecution and all the wrongdoings proved in this trial should be laid at their door.

"There were no dirty goings on during the trial, all the dirty dealings were done before this trial started.

"To destroy the lives of many without any proof that would stand in court is what could be described as a witch hunt."

No appeal

The local authority's case focused on Mr Miller's kitchen business which went under a number of names, including Rock Solid Kitchens and Forever Kitchens.

Hundreds of customers had complained to trading standards, claiming their kitchens were sub-standard and cheap materials like MDF wood had been used.

However, despite the council spending more than £3m on one of its biggest operations, the authority's case was described as "inconceivable" by Judge Foster.

Charlie Parker, Oldham Council's chief executive, said: "We worked with a significant number of other local authorities from across the country to bring this case to court.

"We are disappointed by the judge's decision, but this was an extremely complex and ground-breaking case which was always going to be challenging.

"We have decided not to appeal and are now establishing a thorough and independent review.

"This will be led by Mr Stewart Dobson, a lawyer and former acting chief executive of Birmingham City Council.

"I can also confirm that a senior member of staff has been suspended - without prejudice - pending the outcome of Mr Dobson's findings."



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