A couple who are spending their second winter on a cramped, cold riverboat claim that a currency dealer took their savings and ruined their lives.
Darrel and Suri Poulos, both naturalised Britons, were living in a comfortable hilltop house in a smart borough village three years ago.
Now they are crammed into the Arcadia, a tiny dutch cheese barge, moored on the River Thames at Henley. They bought the craft with what remained of their cash reserves after being defrauded of over £160,000.
Now they want to issue a warning to people who might be tempted to do what they did – because they say they have been let down by the very people they thought should be protecting them.
The Poulos family had lived in a spacious five-bedroom house in Remenham for 27 years. They have four surviving children, all of whom have now left home.
Mr Poulos ran a management consulting business for large companies, while his wife ran an educational company. Both were and remain strong members of the local community with Mr Poulos serving on the Remenham Parish Council and as chair of the Henley Players drama group.
After 2008 and the financial crash, the consultancy work dried up.
Four years ago the couple decided to cut their losses; they sold the house, paid back debts and planned to use the remainder to build a ‘grand design eco’ house next door on a field they own.
They moved into rented housing in neighbouring Henley while they pushed through the project.
However, because their home was in the green belt, planning permission could not be granted.
They put their dwindling resources into setting up a floating B&B business. They identified a large river barge for sale in Belgium, called Agnes of Brugges, gathered together the money for it and used a Croydon based foreign currency trader to make the transfers to the Belgian owners.
That’s when disaster struck. The currency dealer they used did not make the payment. They found themselves in Belgium with the boat at the border and able to go no further.
The Poulos’s had laid out for a skipper to bring Agnes across the Channel into the Thames Estuary and upriver to Henley, but he had to be dismissed, the boat returned to its original moorings and the project abandoned.
When they investigated what had happened to their money they found it had disappeared. The currency dealer could not be contacted and they never saw the money again.
Mr Poulos said: “I had no reason to doubt him at all. I’d used his services before to bring some dollars to the UK and everything had gone smoothly. The same had happened when it came to putting through the 10% deposit on the Agnes, that all went through – if a little late.”
By this point Darrel, normally a level-headed man – had become suicidal and had to be talked out of driving his car into a motorway pontoon.
So far they had lost more than £160,000. They looked to the statutary bodies for help and compensation. But the company they had used was now in administration and had not been required to have client compensation insurance.
They approached the Financial Conduct Authority who told them they had no powers to do anything about it.
Mrs Poulos said: “Even when another creditor had complained about the dealer months prior to our dealings, the FCA stated they could be of no help.
“Not only did the FCA make no attempt to resolve the complaints, they made no mention on their website of any complaints, and continued to list the business as regulated and authorised.
“We would have got better information and warnings from Trip Advisor in comparison to the FCA.”
A final approach to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme led to more disappointment when the Poulos’s discovered they would only pay out in cases of bankruptcy, not fraud, and that they didn’t cover any cases of Foreign Currency transactions.
The Poulos’s have joined a creditors organisation made up of about 20 with similar complaints against the company, but so far nothing has been reclaimed.