Police considering action over Foxtons "board wars"

Troubled estate agent faces the prospect of multi-million pound legal action by rivals

Police considering action over Foxtons After admitting to some of the allegations printed in The Times newspaper, Foxtons are now facing a police investigation. Foxtons confessed that they “did instruct our sub-contractors to destroy rivals’ boards”.

Now a number of rival estate agencies are considering civil action, one company claiming that “the destruction of boards was not a petty act of theft or criminal damage but a crime that was organised to increase market share”. The agents are planning legal action which they believe could result in a multi-million pound settlement.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman told The Times “Any allegation of crime will be looked at and considered, and appropriate action taken.” Senior employees of Foxtons were summoned to an emergency meeting yesterday at their headquarters in Chiswick Business Park to discuss the scandal, however no public comment has yet been.

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‘Board Wars’ is not a new business tactic for the Millennium however, The Times claims to have in its possession documents that show that the systematic destruction of rival boards was being committed on a large scale as long ago as 1997. They believe that Foxton’s branch managers would sometimes send faxes to sub-contractors identifying the address of the board and the name of the agent to be targeted.

A form from the Chiswick office on November 27, 1997, referring to a Foxtons rival, Faron Sutaria, says of a property at 53 Homefield Road, W4 “Remove our board & Faron’s board, please put their board around the corner.” The job, allegedly, was completed the next day.

Steven Hewitt’s firm PB signs, who ran Foxtons’ sub-contractors for seven years, was established with help from Foxtons who were aware of his activities. Several employees of PB Signs corroborated this, as have former Foxtons staff, who confirmed that the destruction of rivals’ boards was common practice.

Foxton's contractors still appeared to be damaging rivals’ boards as recently as December. Police in Acton, West London, wrote to Steven Hewitt on December 9, 2002, after one of his staff was caught interfering with boards in Ealing. The letter, on Metropolitan Police notepaper, said that the officer was “investigating an allegation of criminal damage” in Denbigh Road, Ealing. “It is alleged that a male in his late twenties with long hair was seen to damage a number of estate agents boards in this road, and then make good their escape in a vehicle . . . registered to you”.

Stephen Carr-Smith, the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA), believes this whole debacle has reinforced the argument for compulsory membership of the scheme of which Foxtons is not a member. New legislation would make membership compulsory. The ombudsman’s code of practice prohibits the removal of rivals’ boards, and Mr Carr-Smith can fine members up to £25,000 for breaches of the code. He believes “Allegations such as this don’t help the reputation of estate agents, many of whom are doing their best to do a difficult job as well as they can.”

June 18, 2003

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