Police probe Gill's Motorhomes fraud claims
Police are investigating claims that a West Lothian motorhome firm duped customers and business associates out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
BBC Scotland has learned that dozens of Gill's Motorhomes clients are owed substantial sums for vehicle hire bookings that never materialised.
Several customers also claim they lost thousands after buying used vehicles that were still owned by finance firms.
And two men claim to have lost tens of thousands over a failed franchise plan.
Gill's Motorhomes, which has now ceased trading, told BBC Scotland that all of its customers who prepaid to hire a vehicle would receive a full refund.
The Dechmont-based company, whose sole director is David Gill, also said it aimed to "recompense" two businessmen who each invested close to £100,000 in planned Gill's-branded franchise operations in England "as and when we are able".
In a statement, police said they were "investigating reports of a fraudulent scheme linked to a business in Dechmont, West Lothian".
BBC Scotland traced a number of Gill's customers, all of whom claimed to have lost thousands of pounds.
Alan Nicoll, from East Kilbride, and Fort William-based Ingrid Anderson both bought ex-hire motorhomes from Gill's - only to discover later that the vehicles were still subject to leasing agreements.
In October Mr Nicoll, 55, paid Gill's a £5,000 deposit for a motorhome before finding out a few days later that there was outstanding finance on the vehicle.
He said he agreed to pay Gill's the outstanding balance of £32,000 after receiving assurances from the firm that it would clear the debt with the finance company as soon as it received his money.
In emails seen by BBC Scotland, Mr Nicoll was repeatedly told by Gill's that the issue was being addressed.
But the finance company did not receive the money.
In March, it informed Mr Nicoll that Gill's had ceased trading and that it wanted to recover the vehicle.
Mr Nicoll said: "I decided to reach a settlement and paid the finance company £10,000.
"Between my partner and myself, it was a terrible time.
"You can understand a business going underneath, but for them to do what they did was just lowlife."
Ingrid Anderson, who is in her 60s, told BBC Scotland that she paid Gill's company Motorhome Hire Scotland £35,000 for a second-hand Bailey Advance 655 in late 2017.
But when she tried to sell it a few months ago, a dealer informed her that there was still a lease agreement on the vehicle.
Mrs Anderson claimed she was later told by the finance company involved that she would have to pay an outstanding balance of £20,500 or it would repossess the vehicle.
She said she tried to resolve the matter with Gill's but the company went silent at the end of February.
"I was devastated when I discovered there was a lease agreement on the motorhome and I could lose it," she said.
"My lawyer is currently reviewing the legal position and I have informed the police about my case."
A statement emailed to the BBC by Gill's Motorhomes read: "Historically every year since inception we have sold off our ex-hire motorhomes and in the majority of cases we paid off the finance owed on them.
"Regrettably due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances the business was unable to continue trading and as a direct result of those circumstances it rendered it impossible for us to make the final finance payments on three vehicles."
A number of people also came forward to the BBC to say they had lost substantial sums trying to rent motorhomes from Gill's.
Derek Burke paid Gill's £1,472 upfront after being offered an "early bird" rental discount on 23 February.
Mr Burke, from Burntisland, said he only found out that there might be a problem when he tried to alter the rental dates several weeks later.
He told BBC Scotland: "We tried to contact them (Gill's) several times by phone to rearrange the dates, to see if that was possible but there was no answer on the phone.
"So I emailed them and again there was no answer."
Mr Burke set up an online group and found others with similar accounts of dealings with Gill's. So far more than a dozen have come forward.
He said: "There were several people posting who had booked with Gill's Motorhome Hire Scotland and they couldn't get hold of anyone - the same situation I was in. And they had paid upfront as well.
"There's an awful lot of anger, as you can imagine."
Mr Burke has also approached the police over his case.
Two Spaniards have also claimed to have lost substantial amounts of money in their dealings with Gill's.
Xavi Pena, from Barcelona, said that in January he hired a motorhome from Gill's to travel around Scotland with his wife, two-year-old son and parents-in-law.
He explained: "We were asked to pay the full amount of £1,800 in order to lock the motorhome.
"That was clearly a mistake from our side, but we were keen to secure it given that my parents-in-law were travelling all the way from Australia, where they live.
"About 10 days before our trip I tried to contact the company again in order to agree on the pick-up location and time but they had vanished completely.
"Their website was not operative, they didn't answer emails or calls. In the end we had to rent another motorhome."
Santi Miralda, 49, also from Barcelona, said he paid Gill's more than £1,500 upfront in February to rent a vehicle.
Mr Miralda, who runs a language school in the Spanish city, said alarm bells started ringing when he tried to alter his booking a few weeks later.
"I tried to contact them (Motorhome Hire Scotland) to ask for a change and that was when I realised that I had been ripped off.
"The web page has disappeared and they do not answer any mail or phone calls."
BBC Scotland has established that the Gill's Motorhomes' website went offline in early March, with the message: "Our site is currently unavailable."
In mid-April, a new message appeared, stating that Gill's Motorhome Hire Ltd had ceased trading.
In a statement, Gill's Motorhomes said it took bookings in advance "like any other motorhome hire company".
It continued: "All of our customers who prepaid will receive a full refund, indeed most have already.
"Like any other business associated with travel we provided an 'early bird' discount for customers who paid in advance. We have offered this facility since inception in 2015.
"We notified our customers via email as soon as it became clear that we were unfortunately unable to continue trading.
"We provided clear and concise instructions on how our customers could get their money back. Most, if not all, have now successfully followed those instructions."
'I feel duped'
Chris Nowell, 56, from Stafford, claims he is about £90,000 out of pocket after signing a franchise agreement with Gill's Motorhomes last year.
He said the fee of £75,000, plus VAT, included marketing and website costs involved in renting out Gills-branded vehicles in Birmingham from 1 April.
Mr Nowell, who is a former director of JCB, told the BBC that he had concerns back in February about how the franchise was proceeding and began a legal process of withdrawing from the agreement.
However, on 1 March he received an email from Gill's saying that it had ceased trading.
He says he has not received a penny of his money back.
He told BBC Scotland: "I feel that essentially I have been duped into taking on the franchise.
"I feel it was never a properly established franchise, and they weren't in a position to deliver what they promised when they started.
"I have lost so far a great deal of money but I also feel awful for the other people, particularly the people who were booking through the Gill's website for Birmingham where I was due to open a franchise.
"They've lost their holidays and they've lost, in some cases, their bookings."
Another "franchisee", Alan Amos, says he paid out about £100,000 late last year to take on a Gill's Motorhome hire franchise in Swindon.
He also claims to have received nothing back from Gill's.
He told BBC Scotland: "I have to pay off a £50,000 loan and will have to sell off my house and downsize. I've also got to find a job.
"I can't figure out where all the money has gone. I have been stressed out in a way I have never been before."
In a statement, Gill's said: "Two people progressed their intentions to proceed with our franchise model and they had invested funds in that regard.
"We had a very strong and sustainable franchise model which had been scrutinised by many industry professionals including representatives for both individuals concerned.
"A substantial investment was made by ourselves in our franchise model but very regrettably we were unable to sustain the costs associated with this business due to unforeseen circumstances.
"We are deeply disappointed with what has happened and we aim to recompense these people as and when we are able."
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "We are investigating reports of a fraudulent scheme linked to a business in Dechmont, West Lothian.
"Inquiries are ongoing."