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Father begins Supreme Court appeal in wrangle over laptop

AN offshore worker has taken his 16-year-old battle to prove a bank wrecked his credit record in a dispute over a computer to the UK Supreme Court.

Father of two Richard Durkin has already racked up £250,000 in legal fees fighting HFC Bank after it made him make payments under the terms of the credit agreement for the £1499 laptop.

HFC Bank had blacklisted him following the dispute until 2005, meaning he was unable to secure credit and raise enough money to buy a family home in Spain in 2003.

The problem began when the construction surveyor paid £50 for the laptop at a PC World branch in Aberdeen in 1998, signing a credit agreement in the process with the bank to pay off the balance.

Mr Durkin, 44, of Aberdeen, said he was reassured by a sales assistant that he could get his money back if the laptop had a problem. When he attempted to return it the next day because it did not have an in-built modem, the duty manager refused to let him.

PC World eventually paid back the £50 deposit, but HFC, which is now owned by HSBC, still required him to make payments under the terms of the credit agreement and then blacklisted him.

His QC, Andrew Smith, told the Supreme Court in London yesterday: "This case is when a consumer goes into a credit or debit agreement and whether he has the right to leave that agreement.

"We have the surprising situation from the consumer's point of view that he paid for something he no longer has."

Mr Durkin's appeal follows a ruling at Aberdeen Sheriff Court in 2008 that he was entitled to reject the laptop and cancel the sale and the credit agreement and awarded damages of £116,000.

That decision was overturned two years later at the Court Of Session, Edinburgh. Judges stated that despite the sale being cancelled, the sale and loan contracts were separate arrangements and he was not entitled to cancel the credit side.

Responding to Mr Smith's comments, Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption said: "The credit agreement is conditional of that deal and continues to exist upon sale or transaction.

"Otherwise we have a rather strange conclusion that the price of the computer is paid by way of advance to the supplier of the goods".

Alistair Clark, QC, for the bank, said: "The creditor has advanced a sum of money on behalf of the consumer, £1449, to the supplier. So the supplier has parted with the goods to the consumer who now owns the goods.

"The consumer rejects the laptop in this case and he says he has rescinded the contract.

"The supplier says there is no basis for that".

Mr Clark added that Mr Durkin's case relied solely upon whether he had a legal right under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act."

The barrister said the key question was on what basis Mr Durkin could rescind the credit agreement.

Lord Sumpton, one of five law lords who will decide the case, told the court the arrangement appeared to depend on a continuing sales contract with PC World, which had already been "lawfully" terminated.

He said: "£1449 is paid by the creditor to the supplier towards the price of a laptop under the contract of sale.

"It would seem to me on the face of it that there was a right to rescind."

He added: "You have lawful rescission so the money, on the face of it, has to be paid back from the supplier to the creditor who paid it.

"That surely is the only and inevitable conclusion."

The Supreme Court judges will give judgement at a later date.

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