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Croydon review of the year - April

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APRIL in Croydon saw a much-vaunted outlet store go bust, and a prolific conwoman brought to book after an Advertiser investigation...

EIGHT months after claims it would be the town's answer to Harrods, we reported how Croydon Village Outlet went into administration, amid claims it owed at least £500,000 to creditors.

The outlet opened at the iconic Allders site in September 2013, with bombastic owner Marco Cash grandly promising it'd be around for longer than Westfield. But the store was beset by problems from day one, with suggestions staff were not being paid on time and customer dissatisfaction about the lack of much-promised designer labels.

Martin Brand, director of debt collector Outstanding Results, told how Cash was conspicuous by his absence as the outlet's struggles deepened. "To start off he was very keen to talk to us... but as time has gone on he has been more difficult to get hold of than Osama Bin Laden, and he's been dead a few years," he said. At the end of November, the store was taken over by businessman Clive Coombes and is to be re-branded as 'Zervo'.

AN ADVERTISER investigation helped to expose a prolific conwoman. Neelam Desai, from Selhurst, used a dating site to snare vulnerable men before conning them out of thousands of pounds, in a well-worn method of honeytrapping.

Desai concocted various stories, including made-up claims about sick children, to aid her deceit, but she was exposed after several of her victims contacted the Advertiser, following a court appearance earlier in the year.

Our chief reporter Gareth Davies was issued with an harassment notice by the Met Police, after Desai made spurious and untrue claims about his attempts to contact her but, undeterred, Gareth continued to expose her shocking crimes – with police eventually admitting she may have "hundreds" of victims. In May Desai, then 34, was jailed for 30 months, for frauds totalling £230,790.

THE Advertiser revealed the scale of Croydon's house price boom – which led to buyers paying up to £50,000 above asking prices for some properties.

Local estate agents told us the huge spike in demand – and therefore prices – was being driven in large part by Westfield/Hammerson's planned £1 billion town centre development. Helen Fitzgerald, a negotiator at Mark Youll estate agents in Purley, said the market had gone "mental" in recent weeks. She said: "Recently we had a property where we had 20-plus viewings [at a weekend open house] and then five or six offers on the Monday."

A HUGE housing development at the site of the former Cane Hill asylum was finally given the go-ahead this month.

Developers Barratt Homes and Ward Homes were given permission to build 677 homes, due to be constructed in various phases over the next decade. But some residents remained concerned about the potential impacts on Coulsdon – demanding an extra access road to and from the development to ease the potential congestion it could cause.

But Councillor Lynne Hale, on Croydon Council's planning committee, said: "This proposal offers significant regeneration for Coulsdon as well as a large number of much-needed homes and in particular family homes that we really are crying out for."

A CULT nightclub opened again – for one night only. Blue Orchid, which was arguably Croydon's most popular and iconic night-time venue before its closed in 2004, was revived by promoter Lewis Rooney for a night of nostalgia on April 20.

However, Mr Rooney was forced to hold the night elsewhere, at nearby club The Granaries, after his bid to open up the old Park Lane building was blocked by long-term leaseholder Minerva because of health and safety concerns.

He said: "We really wanted to have it in the old building but it just wasn't going to happen. They (Minerva) didn't seem interested in opening it up. We had people ready to come in and do the maintenance work to make it safe but they wouldn't even discuss it."

COULSDON Sixth Form College was celebrating after being rated "good" by the education watchdog – just 15 months after it was put into special measures. Ofsted inspectors praised major improvements at the college, which had previously been rated "inadequate" twice in a row. 

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

"He has been more difficult to get hold of than Osama Bin Laden, and he's been dead a few years." 

Debt collector Martin Brand on Croydon Village Outlet owner Marco Cash, after the store went bust in April

"He was all right but I am not sure about the lipstick. But each to his own, I suppose." 

Thornton Heath resident Joyce Hastings on meeting comedian Eddie Izzard on the election campaign trail in Surrey Street

"She sleeps through the night and is always, always smiling. It melts my heart because she has been through so much... I am welling up just talking to you." 

Amy Smith after her baby daughter Maisie Smith, aged 18 weeks, survived a life-saving operation to help her breath

"At the end of the day, I'm a criminal, so no matter what I say it's not going to help. If the police are investigating then I am sure they will find out." 

Conwoman Neelam Desai, after being exposed by our reporter Gareth Davies

Croydon review of the year - April


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