Rogue trader sentenced to 27 months imprisonment
Shropshire Council has successfully prosecuted a rogue trader following an investigation by the trading standards team.
On 31 July 2019 at Shrewsbury Crown Court, Stephen Reginald Arthur Wright of St Martins, Shropshire was handed an immediate custodial sentence of 27 months imprisonment.
Mr Wright had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 connected with the laying of a tarmac driveway and repairs to a garage roof in West Felton, roof repairs and fascia work in Montford Bridge and painting and gutter replacement work at two properties in Shrewsbury.
The court heard that a common, aggravating feature of Stephen Wright’s crimes was that all of his victims had been identified by him as being vulnerable.
A couple from West Felton were repeatedly badgered by him until eventually in July 2017 they agreed to have their driveway replaced for £4,000 – on the condition, put forward by Stephen Wright that they would not have to pay anything until the work was completed. However, once work had begun, Mr Wright made demands for payments for equipment hire and materials, putting the consumers in a situation where they felt compelled to pay or face having no driveway. In total £7,300 was paid to Stephen Wright for work that was later examined by a surveyor and deemed to be without any value.
A second vulnerable couple from Montford Bridge were targeted on Mothering Sunday 2018. When asked why he was cold calling on that day, he lied to the householder that he did not want to be at home that day as two of his babies had recently died. As before, he offered to do work without the need to pay until the job was complete – but once he had begun, demands were soon made for money to purchase materials. What started out as a small job to replace 25 roof tiles quickly escalated, with tiles and fascia boards being replaced at a cost of £8,700. A surveyor later examined the work and valued it as being worth only £850 plus VAT. Stephen Wright committed offences at this address with the full knowledge that he was being investigated by Shropshire Council’s trading standards team for the earlier incident in West Felton.
On all occasions, before work started Mr Wright failed to provide his victims with paperwork indicating their rights, which he was legally obliged to give.
In sentencing, His Honour Judge Gosling spoke of Stephen Wright’s predatory, despicable behaviour and how he ensnared the victim in West Felton so that she felt she had to carry on paying and was too frightened to challenge the cost and standard of work. This pressure was kept up by his identifying other jobs such as the garage roof. Judge Gosling described completely shoddy and incompetent work that was so substandard it required complete renewal and replacement.
Addressing the work undertaken at Montford Bridge, the Judge said the tale about having recently buried his children was “a very distasteful lie” and a “despicable thing to tell”. He started at a low price to get his victim to initially agree the work, and once this had occurred he pursued the fraud in earnest to the point where they were completely at his mercy. When the consumer attempted to withhold £1,000 he intimidated her into paying the amount.
In total his victims paid Mr Wright £16,200. Despite being given an opportunity to repay this sum ahead of sentencing he failed to do so. The Judge spoke of Stephen Wright’s sustained offending, number of victims and the failure to respond to an initial warning as contributory factors when sentencing. In his mind, the offences were much to serious for anything but a custodial sentence totalling 27 months.
Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing operations manager, said:
“Rogue traders targeting elderly and vulnerable people are a blight on our communities, bringing financial detriment and hardship to individuals and adversely impacting their mental health. It is extremely pleasing to see that the Court has clearly recognised the seriousness of the crimes committed by Stephen Wright against vulnerable members of our community. I very much hope that the sentence that has been handed down by the Court will deter others from undertaking such illegal activities in the future.
“Trading standards take incidents of rogue trading extremely seriously and we will investigate and use the full weight of the law to bring to justice traders found defrauding consumers.”
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all the witnesses who helped officers bring this case to Court; they have remained both patient and supportive throughout the investigation, and deserve full recognition for the very important role they have played.”
Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for communities, place planning and regulatory services, said:-
“It is very sad to hear of cases like this where an individual clearly intends to target and defraud members of our community. One of the council’s key priorities is to ensure care for those in need at any age. Such care is delivered in many different ways, not only through the direct care provided by adult social care services, but also by taking a much broader approach. The work of the trading standards team is a key part of the council’s efforts to protect vulnerable members of the community, and this case is a very clear example of the way in which a very small team punches above its weight to ensure those in need are cared for by tackling appallingly fraudulent trading behaviour. This investigative work also protects legitimate businesses and helps the council to ensure businesses grow and succeed, and this can only be good news for our local economy.”
“If anyone is considering having work undertaken on their house, they are urged to carry out as much research as possible and to always obtain more than one quote before agreeing to a trader doing any work. No-one should act as a result of a cold call by any trader.”
Consumers who have concerns about any product or service where they feel they have been misled or defrauded in any way should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06, with whom Shropshire Council works in partnership. Information can be given anonymously and will always be treated in line with the council’s information governance policies.