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Legal action over Hoover's free-flight deal ruled out

By GAVIN HAYCOCK

LONDON -- Trading standards officers Wednesday ruled out taking legal against electrical manufacturer Hoover over a free-flights deal that ran into trouble when too many people jumped at the chance to fly to Europe or America.

The trading standards department in the company's British headquarters district of Mid Glamorgan said there were insufficient grounds to justify starting criminal proceedings against Hoover, which has agreed to fulfill the promises made in its promotional campaign.

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The company could be accused of 'extreme gullibility,' but there was nothing to suggest it had set out to deceive or defraud customers, said Mid Glamorgan County Trading Standards Officer Alan Miles.

Under a campaign that began in August 1992 customers were given the chance to fly free to one of six destinations in Europe for spending more than 100 pounds ($150) on Hoover products and to fly free to Orlando or New York if they spent more than 250 pounds ($370).

Eight months later the company announced the offer had run into trouble because too many customers had requested the flights. Thousands of complaints were lodged with Hoover, which is owned by the Newton, Iowa-based Maytag.

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Maytag organized a rescue package costing 20 million pounds ($30 million). Hoover used three travel companies in a bid to handle bookings from customers. A number of Hoover staff in Britain resigned over the fiasco.

'Our investigation reveals that while Hoover did not deliberately set out to defraud consumers they grossly miscalculated the likely take up of the offer,' said Miles.

'Their failure to forecast the inevitable consequences that flowed from an enthusiastic consumer response to that offer points to a naivety and a lack of realism. However, this failure on Hoover's part does not appear to be caught by current criminal legislation,' Miles said.

The department's inquiry into the offer took over 1,400 hours of staff time and involved following up almost 2,000 complaints from customers.

Miles said the department was preparing a report for the Department of Trade and Industry, based on the Hoover case, outlining concerns about shortcomings of the Trade Descriptions Act.

If retailers offered a service, such as a free flight or accommodation with a product, that backfired it was particularly difficult to prove they had been reckless, which is what the law requires, Miles said.

Judith Lawson, a spokeswoman for Hoover, said the company was pleased that the trading standards department found no grounds to prosecute.

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'The promotion was organized in good faith, but obviously we miscalculated,' she said. 'The lesson we have learned is that the promotion was vastly successful in terms of increasing sales and getting our name out, but we have had to take the bill for that.'

Hoover has flown 103,000 people to destinations under the free-flight deal and 12,500 people were still taking up the offer each month, Lawson said.NEWLN: cda-gh-ekmi

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