A rogue trader who lied about his own daughter’s death to con an elderly woman out of thousands of pounds has pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud, following a prosecution brought by Bath & North East Somerset Council.
Bath Magistrates convicted Mark Johnson, 38, of Cadbury Heath, trading as ‘Warmley Building Services’, on 2 October 2013, of four offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and one offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (which replaced the Trade Descriptions Act).
The charges related to two building jobs Mr Johnson undertook between May and July 2012. The Court heard how, on 28 May 2012, a Bath and North East Somerset resident paid Mr Johnson a deposit of £2,740 to turn a bathroom into a shower/wet room to make it easier for her to wash her elderly mother who has dementia.
On 1 July – the day before the building work was due to start – the client received an e-mail from Mr Johnson to state that he was unable to start the work because his daughter had been hit by a car. On 11 July, in a telephone conversation Mr Johnson stated that he had purchased the materials for the wet room and that they were in his garage, and that work would start on 23 July.
On 23 July Mr Johnson stated in an e-mail that his daughter had passed away at 4:15pm. He wrote again on 7 August to thank the client for being understanding at this ‘most distressing time in our lives’ stating that he would return to work at the end of the month, and that his boys would return to school.
The Court heard that Mr Johnson later confirmed, in interview, that he had purchased no materials for the work, and that his daughter had not died.
Investigations into Mr Johnson’s bank statements found that the £2,740 deposit of 28 May had gone from his account by 12 June with no evidence that it had been spent on materials for the wet room. However, an amount of £450 had been spent on an online gambling site during this period.
Magistrates also heard from Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Trading Standards Team how, in a separate case, Mr Johnson had duped a pensioner into enlisting his services after she read a review he had written on a consumer feedback website. Mr Johnson had pretended to be one of his own customers in the review which described his work as “professional” and of a “very high standard”.
The pensioner paid Mr Johnson an £800 deposit for work to her porch which was to cost £3,500. She became increasingly worried as he continually asked for more money – stating that he needed to support his family and pay his labourer – even though his attendance at her address was infrequent and his standard of work caused her concern. .
On the day the work was completed, the customer was reluctant to pay the remaining balance because of the poor quality of the work. However a friend was so concerned for her safety that he advised her to pay – after Mr Johnson threatened to rip down the porch if the money was not paid.
After paying the full £3,500, the customer instructed an independent surveyor to assess the standard of the work. The surveyor confirmed in his report that the work did not meet building regulation standards, and that to remedy it would cost approximately £ 7,970 including VAT.
Mr Johnson pleaded guilty to all counts and was granted bail. He is due to return to Bath Magistrates Court for sentencing on 30 October.
Speaking after the hearing, Cllr David Dixon, (Lib-Dem, Oldfield), Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, said: “This is an unfortunate example of how vulnerable people can fall victim to the unscrupulous actions of rogue traders. Bath & North East Somerset Council will not tolerate such behaviour and will use the full force of the law against illegal operators. We also urge residents to protect themselves against confidence tricksters by using our ‘Buy with Confidence’ approved trader directory, which contains details of local businesses that have all been audited by our Trading Standards team.”
The Buy With Confidence directory is available free of charge to callers to Bath & North East Somerset Council’s One Stop Shop in Manvers Street, Bath; the Hollies, Midsomer Norton or Riverside in Keynsham. It is also available online at www.bathnes.gov.uk/BuyWithConfidence or by calling 01225 396759