Windsor Downs resident Steve Vacopoulos couldn’t believe it when he “woke to the sound of rattle gun” on his property last week.
Three men were removing the temporary site fencing he had borrowed from a friend a year ago. He installed it around his property to protect all his equipment he moved there when his engine reconditioning business folded.
The men from ATF Services at Seven Hills said they were removing it because it was ATF property and must have been stolen. Knowing his friend Joshua Wall had bought the fencing at auction, Mr Vacopoulos rang him to tell him what was happening. Mr Wall texted back with a copy of his Pickles Auctions receipt for the fencing from 2012.
“They weren’t interested in the receipt and said they were taking it,” Mr Vacopoulos said. “I’ve been trying to keep on my feet and I need this like a hole in the head.”
“I seriously felt violated. All my gear was left exposed. I’m flabbergasted.”
Gazette readers may remember Mr Vacopoulos from a front page story in April, 2014 which chronicled the terrible run of events his family had suffered.
In January that year he had lost his wife to a brain tumour then in April a fire destroyed their dream home they’d just built and everything in it while they were out visiting relatives.
What’s more, the house insurance had lapsed. The family have been living in the granny flat on site since the blaze.
Mr Wall, who owns a demolition business, demolished the home for Mr Vacopoulos, and lent him the site fencing after Mr Vacopoulos had to move his business equipment to the site.
When the production of the receipt did not stop the ATF Fencing men taking the fence from the Windsor Downs property, Mr Wall rang Hawkesbury Police, but they missed the ATF men by 10 minutes.
Mr Wall said the police said they couldn’t do anything about it as it was a civil matter.
Mr Wall then rang ATF Services’ Adam Mill and explained that the removal of the fence left his friend’s business equipment exposed, and asked that the fence be returned by the end of the day. He believed at that point it would be. “He said he’d get it sorted,” Mr Wall said.
When it wasn’t returned however, Mr Wall sent ATF a formal letter of demand, and attended Windsor Police Station to make a formal report on Thursday evening. He then got a letter late the same night from ATF’s solicitor.
The letter said the fencing panels were ATF-manufactured, clearly marked as ATF and were “unique in the market”. “It is also widely known that ATF does not sell any of its market products,” it said. It finished by saying “ATF maintains its entitlement to the fencing panels and will vigorously defend any proceedings seeking to regain possession”.
Meanwhile Mr Wall also rang Pickles Auctions and gave them the invoice number and asked them to look up who the seller was.
The Gazette asked Mr Mill of ATF why the fencing was taken after it was known Mr Wall had a receipt for it.
“We don’t sell our equipment, we never have,” Mr Mill said. “It had ATF all over it.”
The Gazette asked ATF’s lawyers Piper Alderman why ATF felt they could simply take the fencing, when surely their issue should have been with Pickles Auctions.
Piper Alderman partner Timothy Coleman reiterated that “everyone in the industry” knows that ATF doesn’t sell its fencing, and the fact that the fencing was worth “about 10 times” what Mr Wall paid for it at auction should have alerted him to the fact it might have been stolen.
“Naivety and stupidity aren’t a defence,” Mr Coleman said. He said ATF could prove the fencing was theirs, and that Mr Wall should take up the issue with Pickles, not with ATF.
However he conceded that if Mr Wall could establish he was a bona fide purchaser and had no suspicion the goods were stolen “they could argue the toss”. “You have to balance the rights of the real owners with the rights of the person who purchased it,” he said.
The Gazette asked Pickles Auctions what their standard procedure is for ascertaining if goods were bona fide.
A spokesperson for Pickles said “Pickles does not buy or sell stolen goods”.
“Terms and conditions associated with any sale by Pickles guarantee clear title,” she said. “This is achieved via the seller entering into an agency agreement before goods are consigned to Pickles to sell.
“As part of entering into the agency agreement the seller is asked to produce evidence of ownership, which may take the form of a receipt for purchase, bill of sale, or in the absence of any other document to prove purchase or ownership a series of declarations made by the seller to confirm that they are owner of the goods with rights to sell.”