The Derby boatmaker who swindled over £130,000 from innocent boaters
- Credit: Archant
Pip and Mick Leckenby were conned out of their money when Stillwater Narrowboats didn’t follow through with their promise
Back in 2012, Mick had received an unexpected inheritance from an uncle. We'd dreamt of having our own narrowboat for some time and the money was enough to get us a boat, so we visited Crick boat show to look at prospective builders. Two builders were shortlisted and we arranged to visit them at their workshops.
One builder didn't see any problems with our spec and sent us a quote. The other had plenty more questions for us and sat down to work through all our requirements. The father (Kevin) and son (Richard) team came across as knowledgeable and friendly, giving us advice on things that we'd not thought of. Stillwater Narrowboats Ltd had built our friends' boat so we'd been able to quiz them about the company. We did financial checks on the company which seemed okay.
Stillwater got the job, we paid our deposit and started to plan our layout. Our build slot was to be July 2013, so we thought we'd most probably get our boat around December that year.
In October 2012, we went to visit them on our share boat as they had recently moved to a waterside workshop in Market Drayton. My Dad had recently passed away, so he would now pay for the extras that Uncle Mark's money wouldn't have stretched to. We came away after a good meeting, contract in hand.
We didn't hear much from them for a time and in April 2013 we got a phone call from Kevin saying that they wanted to get ahead on themselves and were looking at laying our base plate at the end of May. For this they needed our first stage payment so as to be able to order the steel. Kevin was due to have a heart operation so starting earlier may, of course, not mean that we'd get the boat any sooner. The following day we got a list of all the extras and their prices sent through along with an invoice. We were excited and celebrated with a bottle of wine that night.
We visited Crick boat show again that year, ordered a sofa bed and made note of ideas that we could incorporate into our boat. A helmsman course was booked for later in the year and our share of nb Winding Down was for sale at the show.
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By mid-July we were starting to get a touch twitchy. We'd sent through our final plans and spec but heard nothing back. When, eventually, we got through to Richard the steel order had been held up and Kevin had undergone his heart operation, which had slowed things down. By the beginning of August, our boat was to be the next to have its base plate laid.
In mid-August we noticed things had changed on their company records. Mick called to find out that our hull had been started, she was possibly up to the gunwales, but as the steel work was done at another site they weren't too sure on the latest progress. A restructuring of the company meant they were going to lease a unit next to the steel workshop in Ripley to do the fit outs. Kevin was no longer a director of the company and we were told that they would be trading under a different name. Our excitement that the build had started was tinged with concern.
Later in August we headed over to Ripley to see our boat for the first time. There she was up to the gunwales, a giant metal bath tub, pretty much like any other 58ft boat. The gas locker was needing some alteration as we wanted to be able to store our Brompton bikes in it, a new lid had been cut to size and laid on top.
We were handed a letter that should have been posted to us a few weeks earlier which explained that Stillwater Narrowboats had got into financial difficulties. All the boats in build were owned by the customers and would be finished off by the new company that had existed for some time. Our first stage payment had actually been made to them without us knowing.
A large workshop across the site was filled with narrowboat shells. In all, we counted six boats ahead of ours. One thing was certain - our boat wouldn't be ready for Christmas. We headed home to alter our Christmas plans, coming up with new ideas for the spec, but lacking the cheesy grins we'd expected to have after seeing our boat for the first time.
A couple of days later, we received an invoice for the first instalment of our second stage payment. Before we paid this we wanted to be reassured, so we asked Richard if there were any unique features which proved that the boat was ours. The following day some photographs were sent through to us. The larger gas locker lid had been finished, and welded onto the weed hatch was 'M and P Leckenby'. We were ecstatic, our concerns vanished. Payment 2A was forwarded to Richard.
Every now and then, we'd give Richard a phone call. Kevin had taken far longer to recover from his heart operation than had been expected and progress at the yard was slow. Our boat hadn't come on any since we'd been to visit in August.
In January 2014 we talked to Kevin. There still had been no progress on our boat as they were working hard to get another boat completed. Over the next few weeks we decided to start looking at second hand boats, so that we could set out on our year afloat. By April 2014 we had bought nb Lillyanne, and in June we pushed out of Crick Marina and started off on our journey on the waterways. Even though this had kept us busy, every now and then we would try to contact Stillwater. We got their answerphone time and time again, emails remained unanswered.
In November 2014, we decided to visit the workshop in Ripley, as we still hadn't heard a word since January. The shed where our hull had been was now being run by another company. There were no boats out the front. Round the back were two boat shells, primed with window apertures, no spray foam or engines. Was one of these our boat? A quick look around and the positioning of the windows confirmed that neither was ours.
The letter Richard had given us the previous year telling us about restructuring had the phone number of their accountants on it. So we called them. They had no idea where Richard or Kevin were and they were owed money.
Advent Sunday came along with a Facebook message from a lady who'd also been having a boat built by Stillwater Narrowboats. This is when we found out that several people had been recently notified by Richard that due to the company going into liquidation, they should come and collect their boats. We'd not had one of these calls. We suspected we knew why.
The woman managed to gather names of other clients of Stillwater and tracked people down. An ex-employee had made contact as he'd not been happy with how things had been run. An action group was formed, which started legal action.
Towards the end of January 2015, the new company filed to be struck off at Companies House as they had ceased trading. We as creditors should have been notified of their intention to voluntarily dissolve the company, so we objected to it.
At the beginning of February as we worked our way up the Grand Union I had a phone call from a Detective Constable at Derbyshire Police. The case had been passed onto him and he was trying to get statements from all those in the action group. In March DC Jones joined us on board Lillyanne. He first listened to our story. When we brought out copies of the photographs that Richard had sent to us, a smile crossed DC Jones' face. These photos proved we'd been asked for money, we'd asked for proof, it was given, we paid, and we have nothing for it!
We visited Crick boat show in 2015 -- right back at square one where we'd been in 2012, looking for a boat builder. Three were shortlisted, visited, credit checked, contracts checked over. In the end we chose Jonathan Wilson, he knew of our past and wanted to help us believe in boat builders again. Oleanna would cost more, a lot more, but we'd end up with a boat this time!
In mid-February 2016, Oleanna's base plate was laid at Tim Tyler's workshop in Newcastle Under Lyme, and we got to stand on it that day. This time this was most certainly our boat, those cheesy grins that had eluded us earlier were well and truly planted on our faces. She was moved over to the Sheffield workshop a few weeks later, her shell finished by Jonathan and fitted out by Finesse. We moved on board in April 2017.
In April 2016 the police sent the files to the Crown Prosecution Service. In July we heard that both Richard and Kevin had been reported for two counts of carrying on a business with intent to defraud creditors or other fraudulent purposes.
The first court date was to be October 2017. Ten days before the trial was due to start it was postponed until the end July 2018, then again until May 2019. Then in March a letter dropped into my inbox from the Witness Care Unit. At a hearing the previous day at Derby Crown Court, Richard had pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading. The case had been adjourned for sentencing. The CPS had decided to offer no evidence against Kevin, therefore the hearing would no longer take place. Although relived at not having to stand up in court, I also felt cheated. Only one thing for it, we made plans to go to the sentencing.
So, in April, we were joined by other Stillwater customers at Derby Crown Court. Originally the case had spanned a period of three-and-a-half years, but this had been reduced to eight months. The case now centred around five boat builds, one of which was ours. Richard had pleaded guilty in return for no charges being made against Kevin, his father, who continues to suffer from ill health.
In court, finances were mentioned, the total amount taken fraudulently over the eight months amounted to £130,000 from the five complainants, ours being nearly a fifth of this, some lost more, others only their deposit. Victim personal statements were read out from us. A lot of people had handed over their savings to have a narrowboat for their retirement. Some victims had to continue working so as to be able to finish their boats. Understandably I now have trust issues, contracts have to be stuck to by the letter.
The judge wanted us to understand that this was a serious offence. The remorse and contrition that Richard had put in a letter to the court had followed a negotiation, so therefore the judge did not consider it as true remorse. He arrived at a sentence of 20 months; due to Government guide lines, the length of time the case took to get to court, and our belief that they didn't set out to defraud us from the start, he suspended the sentence for two years. Richard's assets would also be confiscated, and distributed pro-rata amongst the complainants.
We have done our best to stay level-headed throughout. Sadly what has happened has happened. Nothing can change that; we know we'll never get all our money back.
DOs & DON'Ts
DO check out companies fully
DO check contracts properly
DO keep in touch with builders
DON'T leave it too long between visits
DO make sure you own what you've paid for, everything should be marked with your craft identity number
DO check that the build is completed up to where it should be before paying the next stage payment.
DO keep copies of all correspondence
DON'T be put off from having a boat built
DO enjoy the process