Man poisoned by armchair from eBay

William Harrington with the chair

William Harrington, a 56-year-old from Ely in Cardiff, suffered horrible burns and rashes for 18 months before he discovered he was being poisoned by an armchair he had bought on eBay.

So how did he end up with the chair, what was wrong with it, and what are your rights when buying second hand?


Harrington, a property maintenance manager, told the Daily Mail that he had bought the reclining leather chair on eBay for £80 two years ago. At the time it was being sold as a new piece of furniture.

However, he soon started suffering sores and an itchy rash all over his body. His GP was unable to diagnose the cause, but a specialist said he had been exposed to a toxic substance. He realised the itching got worse when he sat in the chair, so he went online to research the chair.

Walesonline reported that some 18 months after first becoming ill, he discovered that the chair was one of a batch sold by Argos and World of Leather, which had been treated with a powerful fungicide, that caused serious burns and sores in some people.

Argos recalled all the furniture in 2010. It also contributed to compensation for customers who had received burns. It is now investigating whether the seller had received compensation and knowingly sold a toxic chair.

Your rights

It shows that there are risks when buying second-hand. Clearly these serious injuries are not terribly common. However, faulty goods can cause any number of injuries, from electrical burns to flea bites, so it's worth understanding the risks.

If you buy something second-hand from a private seller, you don't have the same sorts of protection as you would from a trader. Aside from the fact that all furniture must be fire retardant, the only real right you have is that the item has to match its description. It doesn't have to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose unless that has been specified in the description.

If you can prove that the seller knew about a fault that subsequently caused you harm, you can take legal action privately, or report them to the police who can consider criminal action. However, this can be very difficult to prove, and so the general principle of 'buyer beware' tends to operate.

Your only real protection, therefore, is to do your own research. As a basic first step you need to search for the make and model online and check if it has been subject to a recall. You should also research reviews of the products on shopping portals.

If you are buying electrical products the safest approach is to have them tested by an electrician before you use them, and if you are unsure of the property that an item has come from, you might want to err on the side of caution and not buy - unless you can take steps to treat or clean the products before they go into your home.

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