A Bristol man has been jailed for 18 months for fraud and carrying out poor and defective work following a case brought by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Trading Standards Team.
Mark Johnson, 41, of Stockwood, Bristol, was jailed at Bristol Crown Court on Friday November 11.
The court heard that Mr Johnson had provided quotations to a Bath and North East Somerset resident for carrying out building work. She agreed to the work and paid him £3,250 in instalments for the whole house to be re-rendered. Mr Johnson later took a deposit of £1,200 from her to build a new driveway. She paid out a total of £4,450.
A chartered surveyor subsequently inspected the rendering work carried out by Mr Johnson and said it had been carried out to a poor standard and had a number of defects.
The court also heard that Mr Johnson did not do any work for the £1,200 he took as a deposit for a new driveway and that his actions were deliberate and dishonest. Investigations into his finances revealed that the deposit had gone from his account with no evidence that it had been ever been spent on building materials or equipment. The consumer had also paid him £800 towards paint for painting the house.
At a previous hearing Mr Johnson, who has also served a prison sentence for similar offences prosecuted by Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Trading Standards team some three years ago, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006 and one offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
He was sentenced by His Honour Judge David Evans sitting at Bristol Crown Court on 11th November to a term of 18 months imprisonment for the fraud offence and 2 months imprisonment (to run concurrently) for the consumer protection offence. In sentencing, the Judge remarked that the rendering works carried out by Mr Johnson were “entirely shoddy, incomplete and effectively worthless” and given Mr Johnson’s “lack of skill, he should not have quoted” for the work.
The remedial work for the rendering alone has cost over £5,000 to complete, but the consumer has been clear that the case was not just about financial losses, and that the situation had left her feeling ‘vulnerable and afraid’.
She said: “Mark Johnson came across as a kind and competent builder. Later I found out that there was absolutely no truth in the examples of his work I was shown and in the years of experience he said he had. When the work started to go wrong, the reasons he gave me were also untrue - in an attempt to cover his mistakes.
“The effect on me goes way beyond the financial losses and the cost of repairing my house. As an older woman living alone, I felt preyed on and targeted by his attention. When I questioned his bad workmanship his aggressive reaction to my questions left me feeling vulnerable and afraid. I didn’t feel safe or secure in my home and felt violated, given the faith I had placed in Mr Johnson.
“It has taken 18 months for this case to be resolved and for the house repairs to my home to be properly completed, although I still have to get my damaged drive replaced. I hope I am wiser now, but my mistrust of strangers, particularly tradesmen, is very sad. It will be a while before I feel confident in my judgement of others and secure again in my own home.”
Councillor Martin Veal (Conservative, Bathavon North), Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “I feel very strongly about preventing cases where rogue traders pray on the vulnerable. Our Trading Standards Team run an approved trader scheme called 'Buy with Confidence' where our residents can search for local businesses which have been vetted and approved by Trading Standards. We would encourage anyone looking for a local business to carry out some work for them to visit www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk.
“Rogue traders can be polite and charming in order to get work but this soon changes once they have got your money. They often put pressure on people to make quick decisions and only take cash so they cannot be traced by Trading Standards and the Police. We would encourage anyone who thinks they might have fallen victim to a cowboy builder, to report it to Citizens Advice Consumer Service for investigation on 0345 40 40 506.”
Before agreeing to any work, your local Trading Standards team recommend that you:
- Read reviews of traders and if possible use the Buy with Confidence Approved Trader Scheme.
- Ask at least three approved traders for quotes.
- Never pay up front and never pay cash.
- Say no to doorstep sellers.
- Always get a detailed written quotation/contract.
- Check the builder’s references and even pay visits to the references
- Ask your neighbours, family or friends for personal recommendations of builders who have worked for them and carried out a good job.