Anguish of investors caught in holiday homes nightmare
Lorraine McGuigan remortgaged her Newry home to pursue her dream of escaping the rat race for an idyllic life in the Mediterranean with her family.
But six years and £44,000 later, not a brick has been laid on her dream two-bedroom Italian apartment and she is embroiled in a legal battle to try and get her money back from a law firm involved in the sales process.
"Everyone dreams of an ideal life and this apartment in Italy was ours. It was our 'something to aspire to'. What has happened is soul-destroying. We have been left paying off our debts with nothing to show for it," Lorraine said on Monday night.
The 54-year-old is one of 13 people from Northern Ireland, including her brother Jim Craven, to launch High Court action against lawyer Gabriele Giambrone and his law firm, Giambrone & Law, for failing to protect their deposits, for not properly advising them and releasing their money to a third party agent without authority.
In Belfast High Court last week the Italian-based firm, which also has an office in London, admitted liability. However, an emergency injunction had to be ordered on Friday night to prevent Giambrone & Law and his insurers from disposing of their assets before the 13 investors receive back their monies – totalling £1m.
They had all paid 50% deposits for their dream holiday home at the proposed El Caribe development in Calabria in southern Italy.
As the group continue their fight to secure their deposits, Lorraine vowed she will never consider buying a property abroad again.
"Never, ever would I consider it again. I would advise anyone who is considering buying abroad to forget about it," she said.
Lorraine added: "When I finally realised that the apartment was never getting built I felt sick as a parrot. I feel sick even talking about it now.
"We used the equity on our house for the deposit and now we are paying back this big loan with absolutely nothing to show for it, only heartache and a very nasty lesson.
"It was really beautiful out there. We thought it would be lovely to have for the children. But what has happened is soul-destroying."
The investors' lawyer, Simon Chambers of Russell & Co Solicitors, on Monday vowed: "We will continue to pursue the insurers and the defendant until my clients get their money back."
In 2007, 13 investors from Northern Ireland paid out 50% deposits for apartments in southern Italy. The proposed El Caribe development never took place, however, and the investors lost their deposits. Last week the group won a legal battle against the law firm involved in the sale. But the fight to get their money back continues.