Riley Smith, 42, of Sunrise Meadow Travellers site, Needingworth Road, Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire, and William Gaskin, 42, of Rose View Drive Travellers’ Site, Holbech, Lincolnshire, were jailed today at Teesside Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiring to defraud their victims in relation to property repairs carried out at their homes.
An investigation started February last year by Operation Gauntlet, the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team hosted at North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards Service, after concerned relatives reported work conducted at the home of their 80-year-old relative who lived alone in Filey.
After her admission to hospital and later when she was in residential care, they discovered cheques for Â£94,500 had been paid to the pair between January and October 2016 for work carried out to her drive, gardens and roof.
An expert surveyor appointed by Operation Gauntlet examined the work and concluded it was worth no more than Â£25,000.
It consisted of laying crumb rubber in her driveway and rear and front garden areas, landscaping including the use of artificial turf, power washing her roof tiles, painting the roof tiles and other minor work to the roof.
The victim died in July 2017 and did not see the men brought to justice.
In a joint statement, her relatives said: “The family are relieved that these men have admitted their guilt. This is tinged with sadness as our aunt and sister passed away without knowing that justice has been done. The last two years have been stressful and upsetting knowing that our sick, elderly aunt was so cruelly conned.
“We felt angry, vulnerable and older members of the family were scared and intimidated. We would like to thank Trading Standards for their kindness, compassion and hard work.”
Further inquiries by the team identified two additional victims in the Lincolnshire area.
A vulnerable and disabled couple in their 60s who paid the men a total of Â£56,000 for a rubber crumb driveway, path areas and garage floor, landscaping to the front and rear of the property, power washing and coating their roof tiles and spraying a wall of the property which was allegedly causing damp. The surveyor valued this work as being worth no more than Â£38,000.
An elderly couple in their 70s also paid the men Â£35,000 for driveway and landscaping work to the front and rear of their property.
They were defrauded after false claims were made about the gravel product that was to be used to replace the grass area at the front of their property.
The surveyor valued all the work at their property as being worth no more than Â£25,000.
Both men had previous convictions for similar defrauding of householders for property repairs.
Both Smith and Gaskin were jailed for three years and nine months.
Both were also disqualified from being company directors for eight years and were made the subject of Criminal Behaviour Orders preventing them from cold calling at residential properties, requiring them to keep records of work undertaken and to notify trading standards in advance if they intend to conduct work at the homes of residents aged 60 and over.
A Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation case will follow.
.Sentencing the men, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, Simon Bourne-Arton, said: “Once you realised they were elderly and vulnerable you took full advantage of them in a way which was utterly dishonest and callous. You used them for greed, ripping them off without any thought at all.
“Once you had persuaded them to allow you carry out the work, you went back and back and continued until all the money was gone, until there was nothing left. Until the pot had run dry.”
Coun Andrew Lee, North Yorkshire County Council Executive Member for Trading Standards, said: “The sentences passed today reflect the despicable offending these men undertook, particularly against the elderly and vulnerable victim in Filey who had no means to protect herself against their callous and determined efforts to defraud her.
“At the time she was particularly defenceless due to her deteriorating health and it is unforgiveable that they chose to exploit her in such a way. They took away her enjoyment of life in the last two years of what should have been a peaceful and safe time for her.
“Let there be no misunderstanding, we will pursue such offenders with equal amounts of determination and vigour to ensure their behaviour is punished accordingly and justice is done for the vulnerable victims. That includes confiscating their ill-gotten gains under the Proceeds of Crime Act, to compensate the victims and their families, for which proceedings will now follow in this case.”
Operation Gauntlet has brought 39 convictions in the past two and a half years, all from guilty pleas, and 52 years and five months of imprisonment for those receiving a custodial sentence.
The team tackles all forms of fraud against vulnerable adults and is a collaboration between trading standards, North Yorkshire Police and Health and Adult Services.