Thursday 14 December 2017

Two serial rogue builders who defrauded elderly homeowners for shoddy or non-existent work jailed

Nelson Richards, one of two serial rogue builders who defrauded elderly homeowners out of thousands of pounds for shoddy or non-existent work who were both jailed. Photo: Cornwall Council/PA Wire
Nelson Richards, one of two serial rogue builders who defrauded elderly homeowners out of thousands of pounds for shoddy or non-existent work who were both jailed. Photo: Cornwall Council/PA Wire
Johnny Jones, one of two serial rogue builders who defrauded elderly homeowners out of thousands of pounds for shoddy or non-existent work who were both jailed. Photo: Cornwall Council/PA Wire

Two serial rogue builders who defrauded elderly homeowners out of thousands of pounds for shoddy or non-existent work were jailed today.

Johnny Jones, 48, and brother-in-law Nelson Richards, 51, inflated their prices, quoted for unnecessary work, carried out poor quality repairs or just did not bother at all.

The pair targeted mainly elderly victims and carried out a spate of frauds between March 2012 and August 2014 across Cornwall, Truro Crown Court heard.

Often the victims would have to hire other tradesmen to rectify the shoddy work carried out by both Jones and Richards, which included repair leaky roof tiles and fixing gable ends.

Cornwall Council's trading standards officers investigated 17 incidents, including four where the victims were believed to have been targeted by both defendants.

The average age of the victims was around 75, with the oldest victim being a woman now aged 89 and living alone.

Jones, a married father of three, pleaded guilty to a charge of participating in a fraudulent business while Richards pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by abuse of position and a single charge of fraud.

Richards, a married father of six, was also sentenced for a further fraud committed in September 2013 involving a woman in her 80s.

The defendants, both of Boscarn Park, Tregajorran, Redruth, Cornwall had denied a string of other offences, which were ordered to lie on file by Judge Simon Carr.

The judge jailed Jones for three-and-a-half-years and Richards for five years.

Passing sentence, he said: "I sentence you both for what are very unpleasant offences. Often these elderly victims feel forced to hand over more for work they don't particularly want.

"They feel unable to stand up to people like you. You prey on that."

The judge said that Jones was a "genuine builder" and that his business had not been set up for the "purposes of fraud".

"However, on a number of occasions when you have come into contact with the elderly you have seen them as an easy touch," he said.

"I take the view that Mr Richards is a professional conman who targets the vulnerable in a particularly unpleasant way."

Richards did not attend the sentencing hearing due to a long-standing knee injury and instead watched proceedings from a prison video link but after hearing prosecutor Ian Graham start to outline the case against him he got up to go to the toilet.

He returned but a few minutes later, he told prison officers: "It's too much stress for me to deal with."

Richards then got up and returned to his cell and the hearing continued without him.

Mr Graham told the court that Richards targeted 83-year-old Irene Jack days after he was released from prison.

"He had already found his next victim," he said.

"It started with an offer to clean out her guttering for £100 and before long he was demanding £2,000 for 'rainy day' repairs. The horror does not stop there as this lady was required to drive to her bank in Falmouth to take out money to pay Mr Richards for work that does not need to be done at her property."

Mr Graham added: "Over the course of a couple of months she handed over a total of £17,900.

"Very little work was done on her property.

"Mr Richards ingratiated himself with her, phoning her several times a day, bringing her food she did not want."

Mr Graham said that Richards told her: "I would never diddle you. You have been good to us."

The court heard that Jones placed adverts in local newspapers to attract business and would quote inflated prices for work worth a fraction.

Jones and another man quoted Christopher Brewer £450 for maintenance work on his home but afterwards demanded £650, which was refused.

"Mr Jones' colleague became aggressive and threatened to tell his neighbours what sort of person he was," the prosecutor said.

"The role of Mr Jones was to back up his colleague."

Jones' other victims included Kathleen Fletcher-Peters, Phyllis White, Carol Selfe, Frank Williamson, Rita Grant, Leslie Adshead and Bernadette Murphy.

Mr Williamson, 81, was conned out of £13,767, which included £440 to a double glazing firm for non-existent windows, and Mrs Grant paid £5,400 for work valued by a surveyor at £3,240.

Meanwhile, Richards - calling himself Richard Barton - had also targeted Mr Williamson quoting him over £36,000 for work around his home and garden.

Using the alias of Nigel Andrews, Richards also convinced Anthony Birch to invest £5,500 in a non-existent caravan business.

The court was told that when Mr Birch contacted Jones to ask about Richards, he was told he was dead having ridden a motorbike off a cliff.

Both defendants have previous convictions for fraud and theft.

Richards was already in custody having been recalled to prison in November 2012 following an early release on licence in February 2012, the court heard.

In April 2006, Richards was jailed for seven years, later increased to 10 years upon appeal, along with three of his henchmen.

Together he and his gang cheated 25 elderly people across the region out of more than £660,000 between 2003 and 2005.

In August 2009 his prison term was extended by another four years, for failing to adhere to a compensation order to pay back £569,869.

Five others were also jailed in December 2007 for criminal actions linked to Richards, and subsequently ordered to pay back a total of £184,182 between them.

Meanwhile, Jones was also previously convicted at Truro Crown Court in February 2012 for three charges of fraud and theft, relating to goods he had not paid for.

He was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for two years, together with 160 hours' community service.

He was also ordered to pay compensation totalling £3,563 to his three victims.

Judge Carr was told that Richards' fraud was valued at £58,530 while Jones' benefit was £45,550.

As neither men had any assets both were ordered to pay under Proceeds Of Crime Act legislation a token £1 or face an extra seven days' imprisonment.

Robert Linford, defending Jones, said: "He accepts by his guilty plea that he was engaged in fraudulent trading but does not accept that his business was set up for the purpose of fraud or was primarily engaged in fraudulent trading."

Christopher Smyth, for Richards, said his client had spent all but six months of the last 10 years in prison.

"When I spoke to him earlier he said to me there were no excuses for his behaviour," he added.

Speaking after the hearing, Rosemary Horne, 63, whose mother Phyllis White, 89, was conned, said she had been deeply affected by the offending.

"It did affect her. My mother lost about £450 and I know there are victims who lost a lot more money," she said. "It has affected her very badly and she does feel very foolish having always been a very astute lady.

"She did feel very frightened when they were trying to get more money out of her.

"It is not right that people go around doing this sort of thing."

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