Sunbed-firm boss in court for hiring out unsafe equipment

The electrical plug on the sunbed which was deemed to be unsafe.
The electrical plug on the sunbed which was deemed to be unsafe.

A sunbed hire firm has been found guilty of hiring out ‘unsafe’ equipment after a woman found smoke coming from equipment installed in her home.

Hartlepool-based Carlton Leisure hired out the sunbed in February last year to Sunderland woman Claire Lewis when she found a cable ‘smouldering’ after turning it on.

Ms Lewis found the company, which trades as Rio Sunbed Hire, after a search on Google and booked a sunbed for seven weeks for £79.

But after the equipment was delivered a few days later, Ms Lewis, who works as a cash collector, ran into problems as soon as she flicked the switch.

Over the next few days, a number of extension leads connected to the sunbed, which had been installed by delivery men in her bedroom, burned out, and smoke was coming from a cable connected to it.

Sunderland Magistrates’ Court heard she also noticed that the invoice had the wording ‘no refunds’ written on it, contrary to consumer protection laws.

Carlton Leisure had denied four charges brought by Sunderland City Council’s trading standards department at an earlier hearing.

However, following a trial at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court the firm was found guilty, by District Judge Roger Elsey, of engaging in an unfair trading practice, and supplying unsafe equipment.

It was acquitted on two further charges of knowingly or recklessly engaging in an unfair trading practice, and failing to provide a risk assessment on the use of a product.

“It started smouldering when my sister was actually on the bed,” Ms Lewis told the court. “My son, who was downstairs noticed the electric had gone again. I went to check the cord and it was smouldering.”

Graeme Carlton, 48, who was a director at the time of the offence, but who has now resigned from the post after being made bankrupt, denied having installed the equipment using the extension leads Ms Lewis claimed were plugged into the unit, and which blew fuses.

Appearing alongside current company director Kristy Carlton, Mr Carlton said he himself had connected it directly to wall sockets.

He also said the wording on the invoice was simply there to stop ‘chancers’ claiming refunds for no reason towards the end of the rental period, adding that refunds would be given for genuine complaints.

Ms Lewis did eventually receive a full refund, but only after trading standards got involved.

Mr Carlton further stated that there had been a sticker on the unit advising on the safe use of the product.

Giving evidence, electrical engineer David Malone, said he was tasked with performing a series of tests.

And while the unit passed the portable appliance test (PAT), it failed the visual test, due to the inner cord on a connecting cable being visible.

A functional test also had to be abandoned for safety reasons, because the plugs started to overheat.

He also said a test carried out with a test box showed to much power going into the unit.

“It was too hot, after only one minute of operation,” Mr Malone added.

The Carltons are now awaiting the courts decision on the level of fine. They must provide up-to-date accounts, evidence of turnover, drawings and tax, at the sentencing hearing on October 6.