Cowboy builder sent to prison

Published: 12 Oct 2017

A roofer has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 40 months in prison for fraud, acquiring criminal property; “money laundering”, aggressive commercial practices and lack of professional diligence. This follows a successful prosecution by Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards service.

St Albans Crown Court heard that Thomas Lee (24) of Orpington, Kent had responded to the ‘Rated People’ website where a recently bereaved lady from Stevenage living alone had posted details of a small leak that she needed fixing. Lee told her that it could be patched for £60 which she agreed to. However, within the space of a week or so the initial price had increased to £28,500.

She felt “terrified” that the work would not be finished unless the repeated requests for payment were fulfilled. Lee had cleverly convinced her of the urgency to avoid imminent collapse of the roof and she felt she had no alternative but to carry on.

Lee claimed that fascia boards had been repainted and a chimney stack had been repointed when it had not, amounting to fraud. He also failed to exercise the standard of special skill and care which a trader may reasonably be expected to exercise towards consumers and to acquiring criminal property by the transfer of sums of money into his bank account.

His Honour Judge Carroll noted that each time Lee went near the roof space he identified further work to done. He said: “It wasn’t just the fact that you were fleecing her, you were and you knew you were. You knew work wasn’t needed and knew you were not competent. You said you could only do now because of work commitments and that was, in my judgement, a straightforward lie. It placed significant psychological pressure on her to get the work started immediately.”

The victim was in a continual state of fear, stress and anxiety. She couldn’t think, sleep or eat. Lee had been so sympathetic about being a recently widowed pensioner – the Judge referred to this behaviour as “truly wicked.” She had lost the money she had earmarked as her pension pot.

In sentencing, Judge Carroll gave Lee some credit for his late guilty plea and his previous good character. Hertfordshire Trading Standards will pursue confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Deputy Leader David Williams from Hertfordshire County Council said: “This case really highlights the torment and damage that victims can experience at the hands of cowboy builders. The sort of behaviour displayed by this individual for his own gain will always be challenged by Trading Standards and brought to court where appropriate.

“We hope that the supportive comments from the judge towards the victim will encourage others to come forward to Trading Standards with their concerns about rogue traders. The significant sentence reflects the seriousness with which this matter has been viewed.”