A North West classic car specialist paid to restore dozens of classic Minis is currently on the run – after disappearing with nearly £300,000 of customers’ money.

Chris Handford of the North West Mini Centre (NWMC) had around 40 vehicles stripped for work at his premises in Glossop, Derbyshire; having received advance payment, he took flight, leaving unfinished cars, missing parts and devastated historic vehicle enthusiasts in his wake.

“I’ve know Chris for some six years as the owner and restorer of classic Minis at his garage,” explained Mattie Slater, who lost more than £20,000 after trusting Hanford with four of his classic cars.

He added: “I have had several Minis in the past which required work; Chris restored those a high standard, but when my hobby before more of an addiction I quickly accumulated cars which were in need of restoration so I took them to the North West Mini Centre where I was told and promised on several occasions that I’d get these cars restored within the next few months if I paid the total costs – which I didn’t think anything of as I’ve never had issues with him in the past.

These months became years, and nothing had been done. Then one day I’d heard he’d done a runner taking all of his tools and stuff with him.”

Stockport Mini specialist Minicanics stepped in to help out former NWMC customers recover their cars from North West Mini Centre’s premises – and get them back on the road.

“I have had more phone calls to go and view cars so I could probably keep giving details for the next few months,” Minicanics’ Paul Howes confirmed.

The extent of Handford’s deception became apparent as more and more customers appeared on his doorstep. Paul told Classic Car Buyer that many of NWMC’s victims’ cars had been badly restored (or broken up for parts never to be seen again).

“I don’t want to come across as bad mouthing other businesses but these are the people who give all other places a bad name,” Paul lamented. Like Mattie, he knew Handforth personally.

The BBC has tried repeatedly to contact Chris Handford, but to no avail. Classics World understands that investigations are continuing.