POLICE have launched an investigation into a second-hand car dealership at the centre of a storm of controversy surrounding claims about faulty cars in Hampshire.
It comes as mystery surrounds the future of the dealers after they appeared to have closed again without warning.
The latest twist in the saga follows a Daily Echo probe which revealed dozens of angry customers who bought cars from Woolston Car Supermarket in Hazel Road, Southampton.
They claim the cars were defective and that warranties and refund cheques have never been honoured.
Last month the dealership in Southampton closed suddenly amid mounting complaints over vehicles they were selling – leaving customers demanding repairs or refunds in the lurch.
Our inquiries discovered that the dealership had actually moved 12 miles down the road to an industrial estate in Fareham, opening up as Fort Wallington Car Sales, with the same director, Stan Rudgley.
But now that site has apparently shut up shop.
Last night Hampshire Constabulary confirmed they had launched a probe into the Woolston dealership.
A spokesman said they were investigating disputes over car sales and appealed for information.
No arrests have been made.
Southampton City Council Trading Standards are also currently investigating more than 40 complaints surrounding sales from Woolston Car Supermarket.
A spokesman said if the new site, Fort Wallington Car Sales, has closed this could cause further problems for customers claiming refunds.
He said: “We will be discussing this with our colleagues in Hampshire County Council who cover the Fareham area.”
City council transport and environment cabinet member Jacqui Rayment said: “Trading Standards will continue to investigate these businesses and we will take every step to ensure that any unlawful activity is dealt with. We will also be looking at how these businesses have been run.
“I have every sympathy for customers of these businesses, it is the director’s job to ensure that their company trades properly and anyone acting as company director should be well aware of this.”
Meanwhile customers hoping for a refund feel they have been left in the lurch yet again.
Chris Blake, 34, from Bassett, in Southampton, is owed a refund of £1,695 for a car that he said was later found to have risked the life of his pregnant wife.
Now, with no contact made by Mr Rudgley, and with the Fareham dealership future in doubt, he said he has been left wondering what he can do next.
He said: “It is massively worrying. It is awful and exceedingly frustrating.
“I think this is the worst thing I have ever been through. For some people it may seem like a small amount of money but for me it was the most expensive car I have ever bought.”
When the Daily Echo went down to the dealership yesterday its shutters were pulled down and cars were off the forecourt.
The office was shrouded in darkness and one of its desks has been removed.
No-one answered the door and Mr Rudgley has not responded to his phone calls or by email.
One business on the Fareham industrial estate, who did not want to be named, said they have not seen any movement at the site.
Representatives from Manchester-based Car Loan 4 You also turned up at the site. They had travelled hundreds of miles to speak to Mr Rudgley after failing to contact him.
The Daily Echo first revealed the controversy surrounding the company last month after being contacted by dozens of angry readers.
Our journalists accompanied some of them to the new dealership in Fareham and the man named as director, Stan Rudgley, was filmed vowing to make amends.
Last Friday our journalists returned with the angry customers to see if Mr Rudgley would keep to his word.
But they were kept waiting for five hours until he arrived to make a brief statement before immediately leaving the building and driving off the premises.
According to the official list of business information, Companies House, the official address for Woolston Car Supermarket Ltd and the company trading as Fort Wallington Car Sales, Service 4 Life Ltd, is a post box in Manchester.
With Mr Rudgley unavailable for comment it is unclear why the businesses are registered there.
The other man customers want to speak to is Richard Burbage.
As revealed by the Daily Echo, Richard David John Burbage has been connected to Woolston Car Supermarket along with another firm that occupied the same site in Hazel Road. He denies the link.
The 40-year-old businessman owes more than 11 million Australian dollars to hundreds of people after the demise of his firm, We Buy Any Car, in Australia, which copied the name of the successful British online car seller but has no connection to that firm.
The dad of three jetted back to his native UK and the New South Wales authorities banned him from being a director for ten years.
After repeated attempts by the Daily Echo to contact him, Mr Burbage broke his silence.
He said he had suddenly left Australia because he was receiving death threats from angry customers and denied responsibility for the collapse of his dealership empire.
Anyone with information can contact Hampshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.