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X-Ray investigates Regent China

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:20 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010

For the discerning collector, a fine china dinner service could seem a wise investment. But if you're thinking of buying one you need to watch out.

There's a company currently operating in Wales, taking advantage of vulnerable consumers with a taste for the finer things in life.

The company is called Regent China. They target elderly victims and persuade them to spend thousands of pounds on dinner services which experts say are actually worth a fraction of that.

derkemarianne.jpg

Pamela and Derek Sutton from Abertillery and Marianne and Derrick Shadrach from Swansea have been left counting the cost.

Customers are cold-called at home and invited to a presentation at a hotel, which includes a film extolling the virtues of the fine French Limoges porcelain.

The film tells the invited audience about the way Limoges porcelain is manufactured. It shows the china being hand made and the decoration hand painted and personalised with the initials of the customer.

Once they've seen the video, potential customers are shown into another room, where they're made an offer they can't refuse - a set of fine china worth thousands of pounds, for just £1. Too good to be true?

An hour and a half of well-rehearsed sales patter later and both the Suttons and the Shadrachs were persuaded to buy.

Derrick Shadrach said, "a lot of people started to get fidgety because you weren't comfortable in any way. I think it was part of the brainwashing of the presentation".

These same pressure-selling techniques have been used by a company called Regency Porcelain, who were secretly filmed by our sister programme Inside Out.

Regency Porcelain was run by Monsieur Laurent le Du. It went into liquidation last autumn, owing over £220,000 to Her Majesties Revenue and Customs.

But Monsieur Le Du had already started up Regent China and employed the same sales woman to head up the hard sell.

At each presentation three couples are chosen - seemingly at random - and offered the opportunity to buy a dinner service described as 'worth up to £14,000' for a pound. The Shadrachs and Suttons were selected. But there was a catch - they'd have to pay £35 to have each piece personalised, which for 80-odd items amounted to a staggering £2,900.

Marianne reflected, "I wasn't being rational at that point, I think I was so overawed by the fact I was going to be able to buy something really special".

But hours later reality hit home.

Both the Suttons and the Shadrachs decided to cancel their orders, calling Regent China on the Monday morning immediately after the Saturday presentation. They were told that 48 personalised pieces of the service had already been manufactured and they would have to pay for those.

Both couples were refunded part of their money. But the company insisted they pay for the items they said they'd already made.

It took several weeks for the china to arrive. Pamela Sutton refused delivery, but Marianne Shadrach, now almost £1,700 out of pocket, reluctantly accepted 48 items.

But were they really worth the money? We took Marianne's china to porcelain expert Curtis Dowling in London. Upon examining the items, he suggested that the 48 pieces were closer to £100 in value. By adding the initials of the customer they were, in fact, reducing rather than adding to, the value of the set.

X-Ray contacted Regent China who said you don't see the pattern of the Rose De Monaco service that the Shadrachs received being hand-painted on the DVD. They say their agents are "careful to advise that the services are hand-finished", which is different to being hand-painted. Regent China admit that some dinner services are transfers printed.

The people we have spoken to say they're told the china sets they purchase are worth thousands. But Regent China insist they don't say "the services are "worth" significant sums".

Regent China tell us they have hundreds of satisfied customers and if people want a seat they can have one, but apparently it's impractical to offer every attendee a seat.

Last week, the Suttons won their small claim against Regent China to get all their money back, with costs. Regent China plan to appeal the decision. The Shadrachs are waiting to find out when their small claim will be heard.

Let us know if you've been affected by this story, by emailing us at x-ray@bbc.co.uk.

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