Customers' anger at Bedminster furniture restoration business Bobbie Burns
SEVERAL customers have been left out of pocket and frustrated after paying large deposits to a furniture restoration business in Bedminster.
Four couples who are disgruntled customers of Bobbie Burns in North Street told The Post they are owed money by the firm's owner Paul Harris after leaving their possessions with him to be restored or reupholstered.
The customers say work on their furniture was either not completed on time or not carried out at all.
Some have demanded their furniture back but not received it while others have been awarded compensation by a judge at the small claims court. Some of them say they have been left with no option but to fork out again to have their furniture restored elsewhere.
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The firm's customers who spoke to The Post believe more should be done by Bristol City Council's trading standards team to stop Mr Harris trading.
Customers contacted The Post after reading about the plight of Nicholas and Glenys Dunning, who are waiting to have their conservatory furniture restored more than 14 months after paying Mr Harris £300.
Mr and Mrs Dunning, who live in Coalpit Heath, were awarded £1,890 in compensation after he failed to carry out the work but have not received a penny.
In response, Mr Harris said his elderly mother had recently passed away and that he had needed money to pay for her funeral.
Of the latest complaints, he said his business had been through a difficult year last year, when he lost a member of staff and there was a lack of support from his bank.
His customers Liz and Richard Davies, from Downend, say they do not believe Mr Harris should still be trading.
Mrs Davies, a conference organiser, paid him £1,500 in February 2011 to have five pieces of furniture restored.
Nineteen months later, she claimed went to his shop to reclaim her furniture to find one sofa and one chair "in shreds" and her antique chair missing.
Two years on and she says she has still not had her antique Edwardian armchair back and is still owed £100, after Mr Harris paid her £1,400 back in instalments.
Mrs Davies said: "I don't think he should be able to be in business. Trading standards said they couldn't prevent him trading and that all they could do was tell him he needs to improve his practises and monitor him."
Eileen Love and her husband Philip paid a £800 deposit to Mr Harris to have new loose covers fitted to two sofas last July.
They have not received their sofas or their money back.
Mrs Love, who lives in Knowle, said Mr Harris had promised the work would be finished by the end of December.
She said: "I'm just desperate now and don't know what to do. I went to the police but they said it was a civil matter and couldn't get involved."
Ken and Mary Pitman, of Bishopsworth, took Mr Harris to court after entrusting Bobbie Burns with a three-piece suite they bought when they got married in 1962.
As a golden wedding anniversary present to each other they wanted it re-covered, paying Mr Harris £1,300 for materials in March last year.
They say after a catalogue of excuses and delays, they took him to the small claims court and were awarded a full refund plus the cost of instructing another upholster to put right their 'butchered' suite.
Mr Pitman, 74, said: "We went down to the shop to take it away and had it re-covered elsewhere in July.
"He was just taking the mickey. We went to the small claims court and he said he would pay by January but he'd never paid anything.
"When we were told we had been wronged, we were happy with the verdict but nobody is doing anything about it. We would have to pay more money to get bailiffs in or take him to court again."
Carol and Michael Tutton, of Bedminster, were also let down by Bobbie Burns.
They paid Mr Harris £1,500 to work on their three-piece suite in August last year, telling the couple it would take two weeks.
When they eventually got their furniture back in October, the work on it had not been completed. Mr Harris has so far refunded them £600.
He said: "We paid another company £3,200 to get it done. I'm absolutely gutted and am absolutely fuming.
"I think Trading Standards are rubbish and all they seem to do is advise us. Now we are at the point where we have to sue him and pay out more money – it just seems pointless."
Ryan Ball, managing director of rival firm South West Upholstery, based in Hengrove, said five or six customers who had been left disappointed by Bobbie Burns came to him to have work carried out on their furniture.
The council's trading standards team says it has no powers to stop a business from trading. Only a customer can pursue a breach of civil or consumer legislation through the County Court.
The department said customers should check whether a business or individual has a history of unsatisfied County Court judgements before handing over a large deposit and possessions.
Council spokesman James Easey said: "We are obviously aware of dissatisfied consumers and trading standards are working hard to ensure future compliance by the business and assurances that future customers are treated fairly and within the law.
"This work involves acting in the collective interests of consumers by ensuring the business trades fairly."
Mr Harris accused customers of his of 'jumping on the bandwagon' by contacting The Post after Mr and Mrs Dunning's story had appeared in the paper.
He said: "What it's done is wreck the whole business.
"All these people are coming forward and it's all to do with money. Since the article appeared, people don't come here anymore.
"I've done a lot of good work for a lot of people and I can sort these problems out myself.
"If these people come forward and it goes in the paper, these people won't get anything back because I will have had it.
"These people would be better off bearing with me as best they can. They will end up with nothing if I go bust."
Of Mr and Mrs Davies' work, Mr Harris said he owed the couple £100 and added that their antique chair had been stolen from his shop.
Of Mr and Mrs Love's case, he said he needed to recruit a subcontractor the job to get it completed.
Of Mr and Mrs Pitman's job, he said he had been given an extension until April to pay the money owed to them.
Of Mr and Mrs Tutton's case, he said he had agreed to pay the couple £100 a week.
Mr Harris, who said his name was now 'mud', said: "I had a bad year last year because of a lack of funds and losing my mum and one thing after the other.
"A chap who worked for us left and it was a case of not having the right staff at the right time. With the bank, we used to have an overdraft but they wouldn't help me anymore. I have had to be self-sufficient."