A callous cowboy builder has been jailed after he admitted to conning a 'vulnerable' 81-year-old woman out of thousands of pounds.
Recorder Paul Reid sentenced Paul Birch to 20 months in prison during a hearing held at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday.
Zaiban Alam, prosecuting, told the court how Birch, 44, 'misled and coerced' the elderly woman into handing a total of £4,000 to him, after he told her she needed to have a variety of repairs made to her home between September and December 2017.
“She said the builder had been at her neighbour’s address and had shouted to her, telling her she needed some work doing to her house. He visited her a few days later,” said Ms Alam.
The woman, described by Ms Alam as ‘vulnerable,’ agreed for the work to be done and handed over an initial sum of £800 in cash.
After carrying out a small amount of work, Birch drove the woman to her bank to withdraw the remaining £3,200.
“He took the cash and left,” said Ms Alam.
Birch failed to give the woman a contract or receipts, and after becoming concerned about the quality of the work carried out she asked her neighbour to contact him.
The woman’s neighbour discovered Birch had blocked him on Facebook, their agreed method of contact, prompting the woman to contact Sheffield City Council’s Trading Standards department.
During their investigation, Trading Standards discovered Birch had bragged on Facebook about buying an Audi A3 days after the elderly woman paid him.
They also found a Facebook page set up by Birch under the name Sheffield Household Maintenance and Home Improvements, through which he purported that photos used on the page were examples of work carried out by the firm.
He later admitted the photographs were not of work carried out by him, and were, in fact, pictures that were either taken from Google Images or of work carried out by his father.
A building surveyor was commissioned by Trading Standards to assess the work carried out by Birch at the woman’s home, and found that cost of repairing the damage Birch caused to the woman’s property, estimated as being approximately £240, outweighed the cost of the materials he used.
During the course of Trading Standards’ investigation, a second woman was conned by Birch in December last year, when he responded to an advert she placed on an industry forum requesting for quotes to repair a leak in her roof using the company name of Sheffield Household Maintenance and Home Improvements.
Ms Alam continued: “The defendant contacted her..and repeatedly told her he was the best in Sheffield, and as a result she believed he was trustworthy. She paid him £240 in cash, and he gave her an eight year guarantee.
Within days the roof began leaking. She contacted him, and he promised he would attend to fix it, but failed to do so.”
The court heard how when Birch’s latest spate of offending began he had just been released from jail for defrauding an 89-year-old woman out of £2,000 in very similar circumstances to that of the first complainant in this case.
Birch, of Richmond Hall Road, Stradbroke pleaded guilty to offences including participate in fraudulent business carried out by sole trader; trader knowingly/recklessly engaged in a commercial practice; trader engage in a commercial practice which was aggressive and trader engaged in commercial practice which is a misleading action containing false information at an earlier hearing.
Francis Edusei, defending, told the court that Birch had not sought out his first victim, and had come into contact with her organically while he was working on her neighbour’s property.
Referring to the images of work Birch purported to have carried out himself, Mr Edusei added: “Making oneself look more competent on Facebook is not sophisticated.”
Sending him to prison, Recorder Reid told Birch: “It’s quite clear that you are a thoroughly dishonest individual.”
Speaking after the case,
Lewis Dagnall, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene at Sheffield City Council said: “This is another excellent result for the council’s trading standards service in our drive to combat doorstep crime.
“The council has an important responsibility to act to protect its residents from doorstep criminals. Our trading standards team follow up on all complaints of doorstep crime, with more than 100 incidents involving elderly or vulnerable residents reported across the city since this investigation began.
“Our priority is to safeguard those at risk and disrupt the trader’s activity. This important work continues with a number of other criminal prosecutions pending.
“If anyone has concerns that someone they know may be a victim of scammers or rogue trader they should call 03454040506, firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/sheffield/home/business/trading-standards.html ”