01 October 1998

TV PRESENTER Michael Aspel cast aside his [in]famous red binder to eulogise the wares of furniture chain DFS, in particular a blue velour three-piece suite at the 'unbeatable' sale price of £2,662. Professional smoothie Aspel posed in a mailshot brochure with DFS chairman Sir Graham Kirkman, promising customers 'The Best Deal Ever' and warranting that the goods offered were at 'Guaranteed Unbeatable' prices. Aspel even put his signature to the offer. Unfortunately for Aspel and the DFS marketing hucksters, an identical suite had been purchased six weeks earlier by an eagle-eyed DFS customer for £400 less than the subsequent 'unbeatable' sale price. This 'cynical manipulation' of consumers so incensed the customer in question, Maria Cimetta, a departmental manager at Barclays Bank Northampton, that she complained to her local trading standards officer. The complaint was upheld by Northampton magistrates who fined DFS a derisory £3,000 for contravening the Consumer Protection Act by furnishing misleading information plus £2,000 for withholding business records from trading standards officers. 'We believed we were dealing with a respectable firm', smarmed Aspel's agent Geoffrey Irvine [who, presumably, will resist the temptation to contribute 10% cent of the fines].