News item

Fraudulent gas fitter jailed

A fraudulent gas fitter who operated in the Portsmouth area has been sentenced to 13 months in jail and handed a seven year Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO).  

Keith Winning (42), formerly of Green Farm Gardens, Portsmouth, was sentenced at Portsmouth Crown Court today (28 June), following a joint investigation by Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire Constabulary.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, and a further count relating to misusing the Checkatrade.com logo in his adverts, for which he received 11 months in jail. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of assault by battery against two police officers, for which he received a further two months custodial sentence. The ASBO was awarded due to his erratic and often violent behaviour, to protect the public from falling victim to his substandard boiler work. 

Mr Winning, who operated under the alias 'Andy' and traded as 'Portsmouth Plumbing & Heating', left older and vulnerable residents with potentially dangerous gas work.

The three cases that Mr Winning pleaded  guilty to include; promising to fit a new boiler but leaving the existing unit  in place and scratching off the serial numbers, repeatedly failing to fix a boiler and being unavailable when a leak sprang up, and grossly overcharging for substandard pipe work - deemed unsafe by Gas Safe Register inspectors.    

Peter Emmett, trading standards manager at the council, said: "Keith Winning preyed on vulnerable people who believed he was a competent trader from his adverts but he was not. He thought nothing of taking their money and ripping them off. We are very pleased with the sentence imposed by the Court and the Anti-Social Behaviour Order will now stop him doing the same again when he is released.

"We would strongly urge anyone that has had gas work carried out by this person to contact Gas Safe Register on 0800 408 5500 to arrange an inspection, so that they can check the work is safe. They will then pass any relevant information to the council's trading standards team if required.

"It is also advisable to double check any membership claims, in this case the Checkatrade.com website, before hiring anyone to carry out work."
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Allison Fraser of Portsmouth CID, said: "Keith Winning is highly manipulative - his offending ties in with his personality as a calculating and controlling man. He had continually denied these crimes throughout the investigation, pleading guilty just before a trial was due to start.

"I am extremely concerned about the possibility that other people may be in danger from his fraudulent work. Winning used a false identity and showed a blatant disregard for the potential consequences of his brazen behaviour while under investigation.

"We are appealing for anyone else to come forward to Gas Safe if they believe Mr Winning has carried out work in their homes. This work is also likely to be of a poor standard, and we run the risk of there being unidentified gas leaks in the homes of other people whom we may have been unable to identify or contact so far.

"In order to protect the public, we are publishing a police custody photo of Keith Winning so any other victims can identify him."

The trading standards team began to receive complaints from residents about his work the summer of 2011 and the investigation unearthed a string of complaints (June to November 2011), all involving the elderly, and unsafe and fraudulent practices. Trading standards also became concerned about the aggressive commercial practices used so they contacted the Police.

Mr Winning was subsequently arrested at his home in December 2011, when documents including a work diary were seized from his property. This enabled the joint team to contact as many of his former clients as possible to check the standard of work and ensure they had the option of a Gas Safe inspection if appropriate.

Mr Winning then continued to advertise and carry out more work while released on bail, and more complaints were received by the trading standards team during 2012 and early 2013.

He used the Gas Safe Register and Checkatrade.com logos in the Yellow Pages, despite being removed from the Gas Safe Register in September 2011 - after his qualifications lapsed and he failed to renew his registration - and having never been a member of Checkatrade.com.

He also used the address of an empty shop in Copnor in his business adverts.

Sheila and Russell Paling, a retired couple who live in North End, hired Mr Winning to fix their boiler.

Sheila said: "We hired Keith to do some work on our boiler and he charged us an outrageous price. We had lots of problems with it and when we couldn't get hold of him we rang consumer advice for help. They passed our details to the council's trading standards team, and the investigation began. 

"The trading standards team put us in touch with Gas Safe, who were really helpful and sympathetic. They sent a gas inspector round straight away to make sure everything was safe.

"I'm really pleased that Mr Winning has been sentenced. We could have left it but we didn’t. I'm glad our case has helped the investigation and stopped him from ripping off other residents like ourselves. I would advise anyone hiring a tradesperson to make sure they check the logos and not take them on face value."

Phill Brewster, national investigations manager for Gas Safe Register, said: "Unsafe gas work can be fatal, as poorly fitted and badly maintained appliances can cause gas fires, leaks, explosions and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around one in five gas jobs we investigate carried out by unregistered fitters working illegally are immediately dangerous. This is why Gas Safe Register is committed to working with trading standards, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the police, to clamp down on these illegal fitters.

"It’s important that people always check that the individual they’ve employed to carry out gas work in their home is registered. You can check whether an engineer is on the Register by asking to see their Gas Safe Register ID card. You can also call 0800 408 5500 or visit www.gassaferegister.co.uk.”

Bridget Barnes, head of marketing at Checkatrade.com, said: "We would always advise anyone thinking of hiring someone to check their credentials first, don't take them on face value. If they say they're a member of Checkatrade.com and are using our logo on their vehicle or any other documentation, visit the website or give us a call to verify that they're still a member on the day you hire them.

"Rogue traders think they can get away with falsely using our logo, but they can't. Our aim is to help consumers choose honest reliable trades and services, so I am really glad that local authorities take appropriate action against them."

DATE : 28 June 2013