Conman foiled by alertness of Croydon trading standards officers
A vulnerable pensioner was pressured into agreeing to works totalling more than £11,000 by a rogue trader who initially presented a bill for £40.
On Monday (29 April 2013), at the end of a three-day trial at Croydon Crown Court, Timothy Shoesmith was found guilty of fraud and two consumer protection offences. He will be sentenced on 28 May.
The court was told that, in February 2012, council trading standards officers were engaged with police in an operation that saw them visiting elderly and vulnerable residents in their homes to advise them on crime prevention measures.
A particular focus was homes at which building work was being undertaken. They found one such house in Thornton Heath, at which a fence had been demolished and the garden was strewn with tools and debris.
The resident, a 79-year-old man, living alone and with little day-to-day social contact, had been approached at his door by a workman who offered to fix his rotting fence for £40. Thinking it a good price, the man gave permission for work to start.
The trader then suggested a series of additional works, including the replacement of the garage roof. His persistence pressured the householder into agreeing to the additional work. However, rather than removing the roof of the garage, the trader proceeded to demolish the whole structure.
The resident was not able to stop them as he felt intimidated. He asked how much it would cost and was told by the trader: “Don’t worry about it; we’ll see you’re all right”. The trader then presented a bill for £11,500.
The trading standards officers returned to the address on the following day to find a man in the back garden who identified himself as Timothy Shoesmith, of King Henry’s Drive, New Addington.
He told officers that he ran a business called In and Out Property Maintenance and that he was there to construct a new garage. He was told to stop work immediately as potential criminal offences had been committed. Shoesmith promptly downed tools and left the site.
The court was told that Shoesmith and his business had bullied the resident into having a new garage built by knocking it down without his permission. It was also alleged that the victim was deceived into thinking he was paying for an entirely new concrete base for the garage, when, in fact, the old base was being built upon.
The trader had also failed to give the victim a notice of his right to cancel the contract within seven days – a law designed to ease the pressure on consumers by doorstep salespeople.
Shoesmith failed to attend an interview, or to respond to written questions, and was summoned to court, where he denied the three charges.
He laid the blame for the fraud at the feet of a drinking acquaintance. It was accepted by the court that while Shoesmith had not been the person who initially door-knocked the victim or demolish the garage, he had failed to alert trading standards of his acquaintance’s involvement, or to inform officers of his whereabouts.
The jury unanimously found Shoesmith guilty on all three counts, having been instructed by the judge to consider the principle of joint enterprise.
Councillor Simon Hoar, cabinet member for community safety, said: “Here is yet another example of heartless scammers seeking to take advantage of the vulnerable members of our community – in this case an old gentleman living alone and, at first, thinking he was being offered a fair price for an honest day’s work.
“Fortunately, our trading standards officers were aware of the possibility that a rogue trader may have been at work and were able to intervene before any significant financial loss had been suffered by the householder.
“Once again I would stress to all residents that unsolicited offers of work, from tradesmen appearing unannounced at their door, should be treated with the utmost caution and agreed only after rigorous checks have been carried out. If there is any doubt, politely refuse the offer, and then approach a reputable trader to assess if the suggested works are necessary.”
Charges against Timothy Shoesmith were:
Fraud Act 2006 s.1/2 – Fraud by false representation
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 reg. 7 –Aggressive commercial practice significantly impairing the average consumer’s freedom of choice, through the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence.
The Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008 reg. 17 – failure to give a notice of the consumer’s right to cancel the contract.
The legal principle of joint enterprise is best explained by saying a person can be guilty of the crime of robbery by dint of the fact he was the getaway driver.
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DATE: 1 May 2013