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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Rogue trader receives prison sentence for scamming vulnerable people

A rogue trader who defrauded a series of vulnerable victims has been sentenced to two years and six months imprisonment following an investigation by Shropshire Council’s trading standards team, supported by officers from Telford & Wrekin Council.

William Longhurst, 32, from Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and two related regulatory offences.

Across a period of over two years Longhurst scammed six victims in Shrewsbury and Telford out of a combined total of over £35,000 by taking upfront payments for property repair work which he either never carried out or did so to a very poor standard.

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He was sentenced at Telford Magistrates Court today.

Longhurst’s victims were usually elderly and often lived alone. Victims reported Longhurst would initially seem plausible, but seek payment in advance for things like materials, scaffolding or skips, which would never arrive. He would offer excuse after excuse for delays, whilst also identifying further work for which he would request additional payments.

His later offending escalated and he made false claims as to the necessity and urgency of repair work, instilling a sense of fear and anxiety in his targeted victims, rendering them even more vulnerable.

The court heard that Longhurst told one victim that her roof was rotten and that if it snowed heavily it could cave in, leaving her in “a state of fear that the roof could come down at any minute”. A survey commissioned by Shropshire Council revealed those claims to be lies. Longhurst extracted almost £5,000 from the homeowner, continually asking for more and more money until she had nothing left to give.

In her statement the victim described “the stress, fear, financial hardship and despair that William caused me made the first three months after meeting him the worst time of my life”.

Longhurst later went on to make similar claims concerning the roof of another victim’s home, this time claiming that there were “huge problems” with it, that it would “have damp” and that work “needs to be done”.

Over the course of two months Longhurst persuaded the victim to pay him a total of almost £26,000, persistently inventing more and more reasons for her to pay him large sums of money. An independent surveyor later deemed that the limited amount of roofing work Longhurst carried out to the property was “wholly unnecessary” and much of what he quoted for was never done.

Trading standards urges consumers not to agree to any work being undertaken as a result of a cold call, whether that is on the doorstep, through the post, from a phone call, text message or email. If you need repairs to your home, do your research, get several quotes, and look for positive recommendations from others who have had similar work undertaken in your area. Legitimate traders will wait for you to make a decision in your own time.

Chris Schofield, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for planning and regulatory services, said:

“This case highlights that council boundaries are of no consequence when it comes to rogue traders, and that the joint approach with colleagues at Telford & Wrekin Council has seen an excellent result that sends a very clear message: we will not tolerate rogue traders operating in Shropshire or in our neighbouring local authority areas and, if they do, trading standards will work in partnership to investigate, prosecute and secure justice for victims and to protect our local businesses and economy.

“The Shropshire Plan makes it clear that Shropshire Council is committed to ensuring Shropshire is a safe, strong and vibrant destination, and part of this is delivered through working with businesses in a fair and proportionate way, balancing regulatory requirements with business support, viewed from our overriding objective of safeguarding public health and public safety.

“When traders operate fraudulently it impacts the ability of legitimate businesses to thrive, and both the financial and health impacts on individual victims and their families are severe. These impacts undermine the council’s priorities around achieving a Healthy Economy and Healthy People, and I am fully supportive of the council’s trading standards team and the hard work they undertake to bring rogue traders to task.”

Richard Overton, Deputy Leader of Telford & Wrekin Council and Cabinet member for homes and enforcement, said:

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this case and that these rogue traders who prey on vulnerable Telford & Wrekin residents are bought to justice.

“This case is an excellent example of partnership working between Telford & Wrekin Council and Shropshire Council’s trading standards services in the interests of making both our council area and Shropshire safer places to live.

“We will continue to investigate deliberately fraudulent trading to ensure residents are protected from unscrupulous traders and legitimate businesses can trade fairly.”

If you think you may have been a victim of a rogue trader or know someone who has, report this to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 as soon as possible: this information can be provided anonymously and will be shared with trading standards in line with information governance policies.

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