Rogue Traders enter a turf war...
Tonight we're investigating a garden lawn firm who promise luxury quality turf, but deliver grass you'd expect to see cattle grazing on.
Midlands Turf say they're based at Swan Turf Farm at Upton Warren near Bromsgrove, and their website advertises 'premium' quality grass that has been regularly treated for weeds. Customers who'd ordered the product have told Rogue Traders that it was infested with moss and weeds.
Please note: Midlands Turf are nothing to do with other businesses who have similar-sounding names...
(Do you have something to say about this story? Tell us what you think by emailing us here. Don't forget to include 'Grass' in the subject line. Watchdog will publish a selection of viewers' comments underneath each story, both throughout and after the programme is on air. Please remember to include your name as you would like to see it published).
Simon Patel from Walsall ordered 38 square metres of premium grass from the Midlands Turf website in the hope of improving his garden. He wanted a space for his children to play on. He spent six weeks, on and off, preparing the area for the new turf, even enlisting the help of his friends. But it had all been a waste of time. Simon said the turf that arrived was not premium quality at all.
"It was full of weeds, it was terrible. When I first bought it was yellow, it was full of holes".
Simon phoned Midlands Turf to complain, and got through to the boss, Terry Jacobs.
"I said to him, 'this isn't good grass. It's terrible'. And he says, 'you don't know anything about grass. What you know about grass you could write on the back of a stamp'. I just said to him, 'exactly, that's why I phoned you''. And he said 'watch your mouth, or I'll punch your head in.'"
Because Rogue Traders has had similar complaints from other Midlands Turf customers, we decided to order some for ourselves.
We arranged for 56 square metres of premium turf to be delivered to an address in Leicester. Once the driver had departed, Dr Andy Newell, from the Sports Turf Research Institute examined the grass. Dr Newell advises Wimbledon and UEFA on the quality of their turf and knows one blade of grass from another. He was quite taken aback by what Midlands Turf had delivered.
"You'd struggle to improve a lawn with this. It's full of moss, which, really, to get rid of, would be back-breaking work. No shortage of weeds in here."
Most of the rolls were full of weeds and moss, and some were just falling apart in Dr Newell's hands. Andy concluded:
"It's not the product as described, this is not premium luxury turf."
Rogue Traders ordered two further deliveries of turf, just to be sure the Leicester delivery wasn't an isolated case, and each time Midlands Turf came with the same poor quality product. Per roll, their grass is about 20% cheaper than other local firms, but the issue here isn't about cost - it's the fact they're describing it as 'Premium' quality and saying that it's 'regularly weed treated'.
Customers had told us they'd got an earful from the boss of Midlands Turf when they've complained, so we decided to call him ourselves. One of our researchers phoned Terry Jacobs to say that we weren't happy with the moss-filled turf he'd sold us. It didn't go well.
Researcher: "I don't think the quality of the turf is very good AT ALL. I mean it's completely full of weeds and moss for one thing."
Terry Jacobs: "Well, I don't know what your credentials are regarding turf , but I've been involved in the business for 25 years. Do you know what, I take turf to Barratts."
Terry Jacobs: "For their show homes. I supply Notcutts Garden Centre in Solihull. I'm also agents for Webbs of Wychbold, and all those people are very particular and they're all very happy with my product."
We checked with Notcutts, Barratts and Webbs of Wychbold, and Terry Jacobs doesn't supply any of them. And he's not just a liar - Terry Jacobs has a very short fuse.
Researcher: "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
Terry Jacobs: "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do... "
Researcher: "Yeah... "
Terry Jacobs: "I'll find where you are and I'll put my fist down your throat if you spoke to me like a five-year-old child."
According to the Royal Mail, Midlands Turf's advertised address doesn't exist. So, we followed one of their lorries. They're based in an isolated field in Upton Warren near Bromsgrove. There, we saw Terry Jacobs cutting and preparing lawn turf for sale. Soon afterwards, in true Rogue Traders style, presenter Matt Allwright confronted him with questions about his threats and the quality of his product.
Mr. Jacobs said:
"All turf is only as good as the person who looks after it. Most people get the garden, they have the turf delivered, they mow it with a blunt mower afterwards, they don't treat it properly anyway."
Later Mr Jacobs emailed the programme:
"The day-to-day running of the business has been difficult of late due to lack of work."
"Our supplier has not fulfilled his obligations to us with the supply of turf. Lawn turf is a natural product grown in fields not produced in factories. It is widely known that keeping grass free from weeds is practically impossible.
"Turf is a perishable product and therefore cannot be resold etc. Unlike high pressure salesmen, dangerous gas fitters or car mechanics who leave cars more dangerous than before they enter the garage. Which in my opinion, are far more infamous than myself."
Because Rogue Traders had seen Mr Jacobs cutting his own turf in a field which he owned, researchers replied to his email for clarification about his mystery 'supplier'. Mr Jacobs did not respond.
I purchased 2 tonnes of top soil from Midlands turf on the 3rd August and paid a premium price for what was describe as Lawn top soil. It was of very poor
quality and was twice as much as other top soil I have purchased with no such quality issues. Basically I was ripped off and have two tonnes of soil sitting
at the bottom of my garden that I can't use and will cost me another £100 to hire a skip to get rid of it. Terry Jacobs shouldn't be allowed to trade again.
I'm watching watchdog and I've seen that midlands turf are on rogue traders, I've had the exact same experience!
They didn't deliver enough turf, it was full of clover (and still is) and every time we called the company we were threatened, shouted at and abused, we didn't get all our grass in the end and no money back at all. We gave up in the end. Glad to see they've been brought into the spotlight
Watchdog viewers' responses were received between the 29/09/10 and 07/10/10.