Man wins 16-year laptop battle after spending £250,000 on legal fees

For the want of a modem

A man who claimed his credit rating was ruined after he returned a laptop bought using a finance agreement has won a pyrrhic legal victory that brings to a close a dogged 16-year battle for compensation.

The extraordinary tale began in December 1998 when Andrew Durkin bought a £1,499 ($2,500 at current exchange) laptop containing a modem from PC World in Aberdeen, which he returned the next day after discovering that no modem was present.

After much wrangling, the chain later agreed to refund his £50 deposit without accepting liability but the finance company, HFC, refused to release him from the credit agreement for the remaining £1,449. Refusing to accept this, Durkin set out on a legal case he says has since cost him a quarter of a million pounds in legal fees.

Britain's Supreme Court has now awarded Richard Durkin £8,000, a sum well below not only his own costs but the £116,000 damages he was in line to receive after winning a 2008 court case at Aberdeen Sheriff Court. That award was later overturned on appeal in 2010.

"This decision is a great victory for all consumers and I am proud to have been the driving force behind it," Durkin told the BBC.

"As a result of the decision, no consumer will have to endure again what I had to put up with - the loss of the ability to buy a family home because of wrongful blacklisting of me."

He still believed that the blacklisting in question had stopped him from being able to buy a house in 2005.

The case raises numerous issues of consumer protection, starting with why HFC had his credit rating marked down. PC World also comes out of the matter under a cloud although it still claims that Durkin was aware the laptop had no internal modem when he bought it.

On the other hand, had Durkin pragmatically accepted the finance agreement he would not have ended up hugely out of pocket 16 years later. The Law Society of Scotland reportedly helped with some of his legal fees.

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