Italian holiday homes investors tell of shattered dreams
Investors who paid 50% deposits on Italian property that was never built have described how their holiday home dreams where shattered.
Lorraine McGuigan and her brother Jim Craven were among 13 buyers who became locked in a five-year legal battle.
As they secured judgment in their £1m action against the law firm involved in the sales process, Mrs McGuigan said: "It's just been nothing but heartache."
She paid a deposit of almost £50,000 in the proposed El Caribe apartments.
Along with Mr Craven, a former building site foreman who also invested a similar amount, she planned to open a bistro in the area, in Calabria.
The properties were also to be located near ski slopes, leading them to think it was the perfect base for their families.
But despite investing in 2007, no building work was ever carried out on the site.
Legal proceedings were launched at the High Court in Belfast against Gabriele Giambrone and his firm, Giambrone & Law.
It was alleged that the defendants breached their professional duty to protect the deposits.
The action also claimed Mr Giambrone operated under a conflict of interest, did not properly advise the investors and released their money to a third party agent without authority.
Liability was conceded on the eve of trial, leaving the 13 investors facing a new fight to enforce the outcome and recoup their deposits.
Mrs McGuigan said: "This was our dream. We were considering going over and opening up a little restaurant.
"But we've just been given the run around. We're just normal people who have to work hard for a living - we can't afford to lose £500, never mind £50,000."
She added: "We feel totally let down by the legal system that should have been there to support us."
In court, Mr Justice Weatherup ruled that judgment for the plaintiffs would be in sterling, rather than euros, with 4% interest.
Following his confirmation the investors' lawyer, Simon Chambers, also revealed that injunctions have been secured against Giambrone and his insurers in a bid to stop any dissipation of funds earmarked to meet the judgment obtained.
Mr Chambers also vowed: "We will continue to pursue the insurers and the defendant until my clients get their money back."
In a statement, Giambrone Law said: "Due to internal administrative problems, and despite strenuous efforts to rectify the situation, some of the detailed procedural aspects of the property purchases relating to the El Caribe development, were not handled correctly."
"We acknowledge that the quality of service was not of a standard we consider to be acceptable, and that is something we regret, which is why we have agreed to settle with the claimants. However, it should not be inferred from the fact that we have settled that we accepted all of the claimants' arguments."
"We also want to be very clear that the lapse in procedures was strictly limited to work undertaken on El Caribe."
"We would like to emphasise that we acted for the potential buyers in the El Caribe development in good faith, and that it was the claimants' own decision not to recover their deposits from the developers through Italian law. Since the events referred to in this case, the firm has completely overhauled its procedures."