Doznes of traders in the Star area are counting the cost of falling for a business rates scam.

They paid large sums of money to a Sussex-based firm, Barton Lloyd, which promised to slash their annual bills.

But the firm, which described itself as commercial surveyors, simply walked off with the fees after failing to appear at a valuation tribunal.

One of the victims, Bob Buckingham, paid the firm £346.63 to have the rates reduced on his business - Mr Bob's Victorian Fireplaces in Cove Road, Farnborough.

He took Barton Lloyd to Aldershot County Court where the judge ruled in his favour.

The firm, which did not turn up for the hearing, was ordered to repay the £346.63 fee plus £246.43 costs within 14 days.

This week Mr Buckingham, who won the judgement at the beginning of October, was still waiting for the cheque.

"They have closed their two bank accounts and I'm pretty sure I'll never see the money," he said on Monday.

He added: "There were about 27 other businesses at the valuation tribunal who were in the same boat as me, and I think we are just the tip of the iceberg."

One of the companies, which has three shops in Aldershot and Farnborough, handed over £1039.89 to Barton Lloyd.

This week it emerged that, prior to Mr Buckingham's county court case, Barton Lloyd's two partners sold the business.

New owner Clive Bick said from his office in Chatham, Kent: "We bought the business and assets in May-June time. We have no connection with the previous partners, who were a Mr Hobson and a Mr Collins."

In a leaflet the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors urges businesses to treat with caution rating advisers who tout for business.

Always check their background and professional qualifications before handing over money, it says.

The institution has a helpline - 0207 222 7000 - which will provide the name of the nearest professionally recognised rating surveying firm.

That firm will provide callers with up to half an hour's free advice.