'Blatant' scam left sour taste

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013

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A Timaru woman ripped off by fraudulent promoter Roger Sutherland hopes he will never scam anyone else again.

In the Christchurch District Court yesterday, Sutherland, 72, was fined $45,000 and ordered to pay $26,368 back to the customers he cheated with his Elton John concert travel arrangements.

He was found guilty of promoting and selling tickets for a return train trip from Christchurch to Dunedin for an Elton John concert in 2011. No train was provided.

Timaru woman Rose Pierce was one of the 220 customers who booked with Sutherland, only to discover they would be crammed into a "smelly, noisy bus".

"I'm pleased he was found guilty. I hope it puts him in a position where he never gets to do this to anyone ever again. This wasn't an accident, this was deliberate attempt to mislead us," Ms Pierce said. "The concert was fantastic, but the trip did leave a very sour taste in the mouth. It made me more careful."

Passengers paid up to $219 per train ticket. For an additional fee of $60-$65 for a Celebration Class ticket, a meal and drinks would be provided, together with guaranteed table seating on the train.

Ms Pierce was refunded the difference in the concert ticket price - after Sutherland initially said the customers would get premium seats - but not for the trip itself.

Commerce Commission consumer manager Stuart Wallace said promoters should not make promises they could not keep.

"It is unlikely Sutherland would've had the same number of bookings at the price customers did pay if they'd known they would be travelling by bus."

Mr Wallace described it as a "unique" case.

"We didn't want to pass judgments too quickly, but right from the start of our inquiries this seemed to be clear-cut abuse of consumer trust with little effort to treat the customers in good faith," he said. "I can't remember an instance as blatant as this one."

Sutherland had told his defence counsel he had $50 in cash and virtually nothing in the bank.

He said the repayment arrangements were for the courts.

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- The Timaru Herald

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