CAR buyers were threatened with having their legs broken when they complained about damaged and faulty vehicles sold to them by a dealership.

Four men – including two from Northwich – have been prosecuted following a Warrington Trading Standards officers investigation into the Latchford business.

The scam saw multiple names set up for the dodgy firm, which operated on spare land and threatened to ‘strangle’ investigating officers.

Some cars had broken petrol caps, no head rests and broken keys while vehicle mileage had also been altered. Refunds were routinely refused.

Customers lost at least £15,000.

William Drinkwater, from Pickmere, and Matthew Amery, from Lostock Gralam, appeared alongside Peter Coulton and Dominic Jones at Chester Crown Court on Monday.

Ringleader Drinkwater and Coulton have both previously been prosecuted for similar offences.

Jones, Coulton and Drinkwater all misled customers, were aggressive in recovering vehicles, obtaining money and avoiding refunds.

Amery played a much smaller role.

Malcolm Hope, prosecuting, told the court how Drinkwater, 42, played the leading role in the operation by selling damaged and faulty cars and using threats and aggression to prevent people reporting them and refusing refunds.

Drinkwater created three companies throughout 2016 – Tradecenter Warrington, Junction 19 Car Centre and National Car Credit, all operating from 280 Knutsford Road, with names chosen to obscure the identity of the trader after his previous prosecution for similar offences in 2015.

Mr Hope said in 2016 that Amery, 38, was named as director of one of Drinkwater’s companies at the Knutsford Road site, despite Drinkwater being in charge and Amery being used as a ‘puppet’ to conceal Drinkwater’s trading.

Complainants who asked for refunds due to faults with the vehicles they bought were told: “It’s your problem now.”

Another customer was told by the dealership to bring back their courtesy car or they would contact police and report it stolen.

When another motorist tried to get a refund after serious after his car's mileage was found to be more than double that advertised, he was told the dealership would ‘send someone to his home to break his legs’.

The purchase price of vehicles in the case totalled £71,773, of which the financial losses to the complainants came to £15,071.68.

The court accepted Drinkwater’s offer to pay more than £15,000 in compensation to the complainants.

Damien Nowlan, defending Amery, of St John’s Avenue, Northwich, said everything he did was at the request of Drinkwater and he was targeted to become a director because he was a vulnerable individual who was easily persuaded.

Drinkwater, who admitted fraudulent trading, participation in a fraudulent business, was jailed for 20 months suspended for two years.

Coulton was jailed for 15 months suspended for 18 months while Jones was handed a four-month sentence suspended for 18 months along.

Amery, who admitted consent in an unfair commercial practice, was given a 12-month community order with a rehabilitation activity requirement.

He is disqualified from being a director for five years.

Cllr Judith Guthrie, Warrington Borough Council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, said: “The shameful actions of these men caused a great deal of misery, stress and financial problems for a number of people.

“These convictions, following a meticulous, dedicated investigation from trading standards officers, is great news for all of those who fell victim to these individuals’ aggressive and criminal practices.

“We do all we can to protect the public against traders who would seek to deceive and defraud them.

“The successful prosecution of these men has brought an end to their fraudulent activities and sends out a clear message that we will always use the full weight of the law to bring such people to justice.”

“I am pleased that we have been able to secure financial compensation for the victims, and that these men have been disqualified from serving as directors of any company for a number of years.”