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Rogue traders who targeted pensioners fined by magistrates after Cornwall Council Trading Standards steps in

Two rogue traders who targeted vulnerable pensioners at a Cornish park home site have been found guilty of fraud after a hearing at Truro Magistrates Court.

Mark Butler, 37, of Berwick Lane, Ester Compton, Bristol and Thomas Williams, 31, of Bramley Close, Pill, Bristol both pleaded guilty to five Fraud Act offences, committed between August and September 2018 in Falmouth.  The pair were sentenced to 300 hours unpaid work each, and ordered to pay £5,500 in compensation (£2,750 each) and £2,000 towards prosecution costs (£1,000 each).

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Magistrates heard how Butler and Williams, trading as MB Property Services, were cold calling at residents’ park homes, offering maintenance services. In the first case, the men told a 76-year-old resident that the chassis of his park home was corroded and offered to clean and paint it. They also claimed that they would replace six of the existing support jacks which were said to be in a poor condition.

Williams claimed the work would cost £1,500, and although the resident thought it expensive, he believed it needed doing and agreed to the work. After only two-and-a-half hours, the men claimed the work was complete and asked for the money to be paid. They asked for the amount to be split – with cheques made out to each of them.

A neighbour raised concerns and a later inspection by a Police Community Support Officer, on attachment to Trading Standards, revealed that only two of the six jacks had been replaced, and that the chassis had only been painted in the area around the small inspection/access hatch.

In another case, a 75-year-old resident and her husband on the same site, had recently had their external walls re-rendered. Butler and Williams cold called at the property offering a free maintenance inspection. They told the resident that the floor of the park home was in danger of collapsing, due to the added weight of the new wall coating.

Again, they offered to clean and repaint the chassis, and replace all the jacks – for a price of £2,200. The resident, extremely worried by what she had been told, agreed to the work. She was concerned at the cost, but was reassured that the chassis would be fixed and that the floor would not collapse.
On completion, Williams told her that “Your house is safe, and you have no more problems.”

Not content with this, Butler and Williams then pointed out further issues with the roof felt, gutters and fascia boards and charged the resident a further £1800 to make the repairs. In total she paid £4000, which they again asked to be paid by two cheques, made out to each man individually. The work took just over 6 hours.

It was only discovered later, by a local plumber, that much of the chassis had been left unpainted, and that only some of the jacks had been replaced. Further investigation by Trading Standards revealed that paperwork used by the business gave a fake business address; and that neither resident had been given the required 14 day cooling off period – which would have given them an opportunity to change their mind or seek other quotes.

In total, Trading Standards estimated, that less the cost of materials, Butler and Williams were effectively charging an hourly rate of £294.

Gary Webster, Senior Trading Standards Officer at Cornwall Council, said: “This is just another example of the unscrupulous tactics used by criminals, posing as legitimate businesses, and defrauding some of our more vulnerable residents in our community. We are aware that this is a particularly common scam used at park home sites, and we know that there have been a number of similar incidents across the Cornwall’s park home sites.”

Cllr Rob Nolan, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Public Protection, said: “These types of crime, where vulnerable people are targeted, are utterly heartless. I am delighted that our superb trading standards team have been able to take action against these two individuals, and I hope it sends a clear message to anyone else planning to come to Cornwall to commit fraud.“If you do, you will be caught, and we will prosecute you.”