TONY HETHERINGTON: Power firm boss Andrew Pilley jailed for 13 years
TONY HETHERINGTON: Andrew Pilley, the disgraced boss of Fleetwood-based energy company BES Utilities, whom I investigated, will be jailed for 13 years
Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s chief investigator. He battles the reader’s corner, reveals the truth that lies behind closed doors, and wins victories for those left out of pocket. Below you can read how to contact him.
The disgraced boss of Fleetwood-based BES Utilities, which specializes in supplying gas and electricity to small businesses, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of using lies and false claims to mislead customers into signing expensive contracts that earned him £15 million.
Andrew Pilley, 53, was sentenced by Preston Crown Court last Tuesday after a five-year investigation and an eight-month trial. Pilley is the owner of Fleetwood Town Football Club and his business operates from the club’s grounds. In 1996, he was jailed for four months for conspiracy to steal from the post office where he worked.
His lawyer told Judge Graham Knowles that Pilley, who had been remanded in custody prior to sentencing, felt humiliated and unhappy with his small prison cell. He had previously asked not to be in the dock. The judge told Pilley, “Here in court you are not special. You are a criminal. You’re a crook.’
In addition to the prison sentence, Pilley is banned from acting as a company director for 13 years. Pilley’s sister Michelle Davidson, 49, was a director of BES Utilities and worked alongside her brother. She received six years in prison and nine years disqualification as a director. Lee Qualter, 52, posed as the boss of Commercial Energy Limited, a supposedly independent sales company based in Blackpool that cold called small businesses and registered them with BES.
Named: Judge Knowles (left) named Tony Hetherington at Andrew Pilley’s trial
In fact, the sales company was secretly controlled by Pilley and Davidson. Qualter admitted to being a “puppet and stooge” and was jailed for seven years with a nine-year director’s ban.
The Mail on Sunday published a series of warnings against BES between 2010 and 2016, when an investigation into trading standards began. The judge made reference to this when he sentenced fourth defendant Joel Chapman, 38, whose job as head of compliance was to ensure sales staff acted fairly. Three separate sales calls were made to customers, with the lies in the first call. The following calls were harmless and designed to lure customers into a contract without repeating the lies.
In 2016, to help readers escape expensive long-term contracts with BES, I challenged BES to produce the taped sales pitch. A reader had already been told by Chapman that only two recordings existed.
The judge told Chapman: “You later wrote to Tony Hetherington, a financial journalist at The Mail on Sunday, who was involved in the case, to the same effect. You told the outright lie that only the contractual part of the call is recorded.’ Chapman was sentenced to eight months in prison. Company records show that Andrew Pilley and his sister Michelle Davidson continue to own BES from behind bars.
But in events that could have come straight from the TV drama Succession, they have stepped down as group president and handed over day-to-day management to their children.
The new directors of the multi-million pound utility are Rowan Davidson, 21, Jamie Pilley, 26, and Melissa Pilley, 18.
Why is there a flight refund in my ‘Ryanair Wallet’?
Mrs EM writes: I booked a Ryanair flight from Stansted to Rome. It canceled the flight so I wrote to Ryanair for a refund. I got no answer. I called but couldn’t afford to stand in the automated queue. My travel insurer helped me get through to Ryanair and I was told I would be paid in a few days. Then Ryanair texted that the flight number was not recognised, even though Ryanair had provided it to me.
Credit: The Ryanair flight to Rome was canceled due to strikes
Tony Hetherington replies: At the When you were supposed to fly, Italy was hit by air traffic control attacks, grounding planes. This means that the usual compensation scheme does not apply, but you must of course get your money back.
After I contacted Ryanair you were told £299 had been refunded to your ‘Ryanair Wallet’. Neither you nor I had come across this before, but it’s a digital account where Ryanair stores refunds that you can use to book new flights or transfer cash.
The airline has now refunded the refund to your bank card, which seems a lot easier, and you have confirmed that it has arrived.
If you believe you have been the victim of financial misconduct, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the large number of questions, no personal answers can be given. Only send copies of original documents, which unfortunately cannot be returned.