Vale People First is a self advocacy organisation run by people with a learning disability in the Vale of Glamorgan.We are the representative voice for people with a learning disability in the area.
On its website, it boasted of being ‘the number one dating agency in the UK’ with branches in several major cities.‘Elect Club is an exclusive social network for attractive, dynamic, eligible professionals looking for a serious relationship,’ it said.
‘We have set the standard in discreet, selective and personalised introductions.’The firm, or ‘niche introduction agency for attractive professionals’ as it described itself, even offered a special service for the over-40s and the company boasted it had been featured in glossy magazines including Grazia and Cosmopolitan.
It also claimed that all its consultants, as staff were called, were trained in neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP – a psychotherapy technique based on the connection between neurological processes and language – and this technique was used when potential members were interviewed.
Impressed by this apparently rigorous approach, Ms Fontaine, 44, rang up to enquire about joining and a consultant invited her to an interview, not at the company’s registered offices in the City of London but at the Charing Cross Hotel on The Strand.‘I thought it was a bit strange but was quite happy because it was on my way home,’ says Ms Fontaine. She was given his email address and sent him a message. They emailed her some more details, for a man with a Persian-sounding name, who was 56 and worked in financial investments.
She says: ‘I thought I had better play ball and go along on at least one date, otherwise they would say I hadn’t tried.’They met at Sloane Square, in Chelsea, where Terry emerged from the Underground station wearing an anorak and carrying a rucksack.
He informed her that although he did have a car, he couldn’t afford to run it.He was hardly the City slicker Elect were promising.They met at 5pm in the upstairs bar and spent an hour and a half talking about what she wanted in a partner.‘I asked her about the sort of men they had on their books and she told me she had two men immediately in mind for me. I asked specifically if these men were looking for a quick fling or a long-term relationship and she said, “If they’re paying upwards of £500 for membership, then they’re looking for a relationship.” ’She then enquired about meeting Tim but was told that he was now in a relationship and had come off their books. A strange email exchange ensued in which he informed her in pidgin English that while he was ‘very happy and excited to meet a person of such attractive profile’, he was ‘only a novice in the single life’.In further emails, she found out that he had only been divorced for two months.An internet search turned up the equally worrying fact that he had recently changed his name and that several of his companies had been fined.Feeling seriously offended, Ms Fontaine decided to ignore Elect Club’s demands for her to set up a direct debit. I was planning to get out before I had to pay any more money.’She was offered another introduction, this time to an IT worker called Terry, who was in his 50s and from Pinner.