A CONTROVERSIAL car dealer has escaped a driving ban despite admitting he drove while disqualified, in a move that has angered former customers.

Richard Burbage pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified for a previous offence of using a mobile phone behind the wheel, but magistrates decided to give him just a fine and six points on his licence.

The decision has angered former customers of the car businesses connected to him who say they are owed money and some are still waiting for cars the company sold to them to be repaired.

Burbage, of Donkey Lane, Botley, told magistrates at Fareham he didn't realise he had been previously banned from driving because during the breakdown of his marriage he had not been receiving his post.

He claimed his wife, who did not give evidence in court, had not passed mail from the courts which outlined his disqualification.

Burbage claimed he received no correspondence of the six-month driving ban imposed in December last year.

He said the only driving ban he was aware of was a 28-day disqualification for an offence in March last year.

Although Burbage told the court he was not aware of the ban, given for driving while on a mobile phone, the Daily Echo ran an article detailing his sentence at the time of his conviction.

The court action comes after the Daily Echo revealed earlier this year how hundreds of people in Australia are desperate to speak to him after the firm he was a director of dramatically folded owing millions of dollars, leaving consumers unable to retrieve their cars they had given him to sell.

We also revealed how Burbage and fellow car dealer Stan Rudgley were connected with Woolston Car Supermarket, a firm that closed suddenly after customers complained of being sold cars that were faulty and later re-opened trading under another name but with the same vehicles for sale..

Now in his latest controversy, the court was told how Burbage was caught by police breaking his driving ban while behind the wheel of a Peugeot car in the Broadcut Industrial Estate in Fareham.

It followed a tip off from staff at a nearby Sainsbury's supermarket that cars were illegally parked in the car park.

Mr Oliver da Silva, prosecuting, told the court that staff called the police after spotting men turning up and driving away vehicles with removal notices on them.

Mr da Silva said Burbage told officers that his boss - Mr Rudgley - called him asking for help to move cars that had been recently bought.

Checks were run on Burbage where it was revealed he was disqualified from driving for six months.

Burbage told the court he had been suffering from mental health issues following the collapse of his car dealing business in Australia in 2012.

During the hearing, he admitted his business, which was similar - but unrelated - to the We Buy Any Car franchise in the UK, lost six million Australian dollars when it went under in 2012.

Daily Echo: Who is Richard Burbage?Richard Burbage at We Buy Any Car in Australia

Burbage told the court he subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown, anxiety attacks, and felt suicidal after returning to the UK.

He told the court his illness stemmed back to 2003 following the death of his father, which resulted in the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress disorder.

But the court heard how he was headhunted by an Australian business and how his family moved there in 2008.

However the dream turned sour when a company pulled out of a takeover of his firm three days before it was completed forcing it into liquidation, Burbage told the court.

When asked by his defence barrister Daniel Reilly about his mental wellbeing, Burbage said: "I had traumas, anxiety and panic attacks. My anxiety levels will never be how they were because of the level of medication I'm now on. "

He said his relationship with wife Lorraine later deteriorated and said they separated in September last year. He said he has now moved back into the martial home with his wife and their three children after reconciling.

"I thought I was getting all my mail - I wasn't. As per my psychiatric report I still have days, especially when I have the media following me on a daily basis. I feel suicidal.

"I thought I had done everything to try and get everything right. I didn't want to split up with my wife, it wasn't my choice."

He added: "I had a 28 day ban, as far as I was concerned.

“I don't know if anyone has been through a mental breakdown - a mental breakdown is a mental breakdown. I sell cars for a living but I was close to suicide.

"My life in the last two years has been turned upside down. I don't want to be here today, I don't want to be going to the psychiatrist every month, I don't want to be taking the pills but I have to because of the position I'm in.

Mr Burbage told the court he has worked for car firms Hampshire Vehicle Sales, Woolston Car Supermarket, and Service for Life since returning to the UK.

Giving evidence, Mr Rudgley, a director of Service for Life, confirmed Burbage works for the firm as a driver and a car salesman.

He told the court the first knowledge of Burbage's six-month disqualification was when he was stopped by police in April.

Sentencing Burbage, chair of magistrates Brian Audus said he could still drive and endorsed six points onto his licence.

Burbage was also fined £200, and ordered to pay £85 court costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

National road safety charity Brake said penalties must reflect the crime committed.

Philip Goose, senior engagement officer at the charity, said: “We can't comment on the specifics of this case, but drivers receive driving bans for a reason - because they have either shown themselves to be unsafe or irresponsible, and a danger to other road users.

“Getting behind the wheel when you have been banned from driving is a deliberate and illegal act, and too often leads to devastating tragedies. The penalties must reflect this.”

Where is the justice, demand angry customers?

Daily Echo: Richard Burbage (left) and Stand Rudgley (far right)Richard Burbage and Stan Rudgley

WHERE'S the justice?

That is the question angry customers the Daily Echo spoke to are asking today.

Six months after this newspaper lifted the lid on complaints claiming defective cars wer sold by controversial Hampshire dealers, a trading standards probe is still continuing.

Out of pocket motorists say they are angry and surprised at the sentence handed to car dealer Richard Burbage after he was caught driving while banned.

But most of all they want trading standards to force the dealers to pay back any customers they sold faulty cars to.

Burbage, along with Stan Rudgley, is connected to Hampshire Vehicle Sales and Woolston Car Supermarket, which gave angry customers refund cheques which subsequently bounced.

Last night trading standards officers in Southampton who are carrying out an investigation into the firm revealed had called Hampshire Council Council to help in the inquiry.

A spokesman said: “This is a complex case with many dimensions that touches upon other parts of the region, and as such Southampton is working with Hampshire Trading Standards to secure further resources in order to pursue all lines of enquiry as effectively as possible.”

Stories about cars sold so far include someone buying a previously written-off vehicle and another car was fitted with unregistered plates. Others broke down hours after being bought.

Some people handed their cars back for repairs but claim they were not returned to them.

One of them was 37-year-old ex Afghan war veteran Danny Critchley who bought a van to work as a gas engineer.

He said: “There is no justice. I paid the money for the vehicle - but I am still without a van.”

Another dad Chris Blake, 34, is still angry after he said his pregnant wife was sold a car that broke down and was then found to be dangerous. He just wants his £1,694 back.

“Until everyone has had their money back, justice has not been done,” he said.

Meanwhile, mum Siobhan Bedwell from Lordshill in Southampton said it was “a joke” that she and others were still waiting for trading standards to conclude the case.

The 41-year-old from Lordshill discovered the car she bought from Hampshire Vehicle Sales had failed its MOT- worryingly for a broken hand brake.

She was surprised Mr Burbage has got off so lightly.

Another out of pocket customer, Linda Collis, 52, from Lordshill, Southampton, who is waiting for a bailiff to claim back more than £2,200, said: “He's getting away with it, driving while banned. It makes me feel sick.”

Burbage claims he didn't know about ban - but we reported it

RICHARD Burbage told the court hedidn’t know he had a six-month driving ban – but the Daily Echo reported the ban at the time.

On December 16, 2013, we reported how Burbage was disqualified for six months after he was caught on April 15, 2013, using a mobile phone while driving his 52-reg Jaguar X-Type in Marine Parade, Southampton.

As reported, the case was proved in his absence at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court during a hearing in November, and he was subsequently banned in December.

He was also fined £200 and told to pay costs of £85.

But in his latest court appearance he claimed he received no correspondence of the six-month ban and thought he was only subject to a 28-day ban for a previous offence.

Burbage’s six-month driving ban was also included in a profile we compiled last January after revealing his connection to Woolston Car Supermarket – a firm that shut suddenly after a string of customer complaints over unrepaired cars and lack of payments.

  • Additional reporting by Patrick Knox