15 years and £250,000 of legal fees later, Richard Durkin wins the 'Battle of the Modem-less Laptop'

15 years and £250,000 of legal fees later, Richard Durkin wins the 'Battle of the Modem-less Laptop'

Fifteen years, two months, three weeks and six days ago Richard Durkin popped into PC World to buy a laptop. The computer was priced at £1,499 (a frankly alarming £2,369.69 in today's money).

Whilst in the Aberdeen shop, he told the sales assistant that he was quite keen that it should contain an internal modem.

The assistant wasn't sure whether it contained one, so agreed that Mr Durkin could take the computer home and return it if it didn't. Mr Durkin agreed that this was a most agreeable way to carry on, handed over a £50 deposit and signed a credit agreement with HFC Bank plc for the remainder of the purchase price.

When Mr Durkin got home that evening, he should have been worrying about the impending Millennium Bug (obviously); instead, upon opening the sealed box, he became more concerned about his laptop's lack of a modem. So the next day at 9am, he took the laptop back to the store, asked for his £50 back and demanded that the credit agreement be torn up. Unfortunately, the store manager didn't want to play ball and refused to accept Mr Durkin's rejection of the IT goods and took no steps to contact HFC Bank to cancel the credit agreement.

And this is where 15 years of fun started for Mr Durkin.

At no point during this 15-year saga did Mr Durkin pay any money to HFC Bank under the credit agreement—not because he was a spiteful man or fancied a bit of 'argy-bargy' with a financial services firm—rather he believed that the credit agreement had been rescinded and he had intimated this fact to HFC Bank.

HFC Bank subsequently wrote to Mr Durkin warning him that if he did not resume payments under the credit agreement he might have difficulty obtaining credit given that HFC Bank made monthly reports to various credit reference agencies. HFC Bank added that if he did not respond to the letter the bank would serve a default notice on him under the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Eventually HFC Bank issued a default notice against Mr Durkin and intimated to credit reference agencies that Mr Durkin had been in default of his obligations under the credit agreement since 14 January 1999.

Mr Durkin went to court—in fairness, he went to many, many courts—and eventually in 2008 succeeded in having the laptop contract of sale rescinded. 

However, things were not as simple regarding the credit agreement. In 2004, he claimed damages from HFC for its negligence in representing to the credit reference agencies that he had defaulted. He did so under three heads:

  • damage to his financial credit,
  • loss from interest charges caused by his inabil

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