News item

Jail for cowboy builder who conned elderly woman out of almost £120k

A cowboy builder from Newton Abbot has been handed a custodial sentence after pleaded guilty to unfair trading and fraud offences following an investigation by Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service.

Exeter Crown Court heard today how Jonathon Mills of Heathfield Newton Abbot (6 May 1967) cheated an elderly Devon resident out of nearly £120k by overcharging her for various building works at her property, including some work which was also unnecessary.

Describing him as a “callous, skilful conman” who showed no regret and no degree of empathy with his victim, the judge sentenced Mills to five years in prison, the maximum penalty for the offences committed, telling him that he believed “if the opportunity arose again, you would no doubt do the same again.”
The judge also ordered a financial investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act with a view to confiscation of assets.

Steve Gardiner, Special Investigations Unit Manger for Devon & Somerset Trading Standards Service, said: "The level of dishonesty and the appalling abuse of trust involved in this case is truly shocking, so it is excellent news that our Trading Standards Team have successfully worked with Devon and Cornwall Police and the Regional ‘Scambusters’ team in order to bring Mr Mills to justice.

“Mr Mills is a skilled conman and an accomplished liar who deliberately targeted a vulnerable widow, befriending her and gaining her trust. He then took advantage of that friendship for his own gains until her money ran out.

“We will not tolerate such dishonest trading activity in Devon, and I hope the sentence imposed today highlights how we strive to protect the people of Devon, but more importantly will encourage those who suspect they have been conned to come forward.

“Thankfully crimes like these are rare in Devon, but we encourage everyone to help each other and keep an eye on vulnerable members of our communities. If you suspect you or anyone as being the victim of fraud or financial abuse, please contact the Police immediately.

“Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service will continue to do all they can to protect our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, and safeguard the economic interests legitimate local businesses from such damaging unfair trading practices by taking necessary enforcement action.”

Devon County Council launched the investigation, supported by Devon and Cornwall Police and the Regional Trading Standards Scambuster Team, following concerns raised by the victim’s family when they discovered that all the money from her bank account had gone.

Mr Mills, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2001 for similar offences, gained the trust of his elderly victim after she contacted him having seen his advert in a local publication. Over the next two years he then issued her with forty invoices totalling charges of £119,722.14

An expert building surveyor examined the invoices and concluded that the work was only worth approximately £24,000, if all that Mills charged for had been completed.

The surveyor also identified that some invoices showed work had been charged for twice on a number of different occasions.
Mills case Garden ShedEvidence showed one of the most outrageous examples of overcharging was for a shed, where Mills conned over £3500 out of his victim to build a small two sided shed in her garden.

Acting as an expert witness for the prosecution, the surveyor stated:
“In many invoices parts of the building were supposedly opened again and quite often to apparently deal with very slightly different issues, yet I find it impossible to believe that the need for later rectification work was not actually picked up and done at the earlier time. This is a recurring theme in the invoices.”

Mills also carried out gas work for her even though he was not Gas Safe registered, which is a legal safety requirement. That work was later examined and found to be dangerous.

This case shows the importance of using recognised, suitably qualified and accredited tradesmen. Anyone looking for a Devon or Somerset trader, whether a roofer, plumber or a car mechanic should visit the ‘Buy With Confidence’ scheme website for Trading Standards approved traders in their area at

Consumers can get advice on a range of consumer issues by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 040506 and by logging on to the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service website at
DATE: 19 July 2013