By Shaun Smillie

When Australian Rodger Pryce went looking for a snorkel for his short-wheel-based Land Rover Defender, he opted to go online and source a South African manufacturer. It was a decision he has come to regret.

Nearly a year after he paid for the snorkel, he has yet to see it - and the man who agreed to manufacture it, he says, has gone to ground.

Now a frustrated Pryce has hired a local debt-collector to try to recover the R3 000 he paid.

Recouping his loss is likely to cost Pryce more than the price of the snorkel.

It has come down to the principle. "I have been in business for 31 years and I don't like people who rip off people. He has conned me and now he thinks he is going to get away with it," says Pryce.

The man Pryce claims conned him is Carrington Laughton, the alleged owner of Unisnorkel, a company that specialises in manufacturing snorkels for Land Rover vehicles.

Pryce says he first approached Laughton last December, when he came across the name of his company on the Internet. He had bought a short-wheel-based Land Rover that was assembled in South Africa.

The short-wheeled variant of the Land Rover, Pryce explains, is an uncommon vehicle in Australia, and when he decided he wanted a snorkel for it, he approached Unisnorkel.

He says that when he e-mailed Laughton, he was informed that the snorkel he required was standard and that he would receive it within a few weeks. About a month later, Pryce says, he received another e-mail saying that because of the unusual make of his vehicle, the snorkel would take longer to make but it should be in Australia "in a week or two".

As the months dragged on, Pryce says, the e-mails from Carrington became less frequent and contained empty promises.

In early August, Pryce hired debt collector Ian Burton to see if he could track Laughton down. Burton has been trying to locate Laughton ever since, but it seems he has gone to ground.

It appears that Pryce isn't the only person left waiting for a snorkel from Unisnorkel as several people have complained on the 4x4 Community Forum.

"It is now five months later and I still have no snorkel. I have mailed Carrington Laughton a million times. He answered in the beginning with empty promises," says one. Others have asked where they can locate Laughton.

"Weet iemand waar ek 'n baseball bat kan leen? (Does anyone know where I can get a baseball bat?), wrote someone else, asking for Laughton's whereabouts.

Laughton refused an interview with The Star. However, in an e-mail he claimed the snorkel had been sent to Pryce and that he had documentation to prove it. "Your facts are incorrect and there is no story," he wrote.

When e-mailed later requesting proof of this documentation, he failed to reply.

"He is a complete liar. All I want now is my money back," says Pryce.