News item

‘Where’s my garden gone?’ asks victim of rogue workmen

Tricia Faulkner could not believe her eyes when she arrived home from a nightshift on a film set - to find her garden and drive had been dug up by rogue workmen, leaving it 'like a bombsite' from one of the movies she works on.

Although she had received a quote from a group of men who had cold-called at her home in Colchester, Essex, she had not accepted it or given the go-ahead for the project to start.

When she investigated further, she found the business the men claimed to be from was not registered - and that several other local householders had fallen victim to their shoddy workmanship. She is now faced with being unable to afford the £5,000 she has been quoted to put right the blundered job - and her garden will stay a pile of rubble for the foreseeable future.

The story has been revealed during the Trading Standards Institute's (TSI) annual conference and exhibition, taking place at Bournemouth International Centre from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 June. (See more on Tricia Faulkner's story in 'notes to editors'.) Trading standards services' relentless campaign to clamp down on rogue traders and protect local communities - including a recent national day of action and a month-long crusade in the Midlands - is among the hot topics highlighted at the event.

Tricia, a 48-year-old mother-of-two, who has been an extra in films including the Da Vinci Code, called in trading standards officers from Essex County Council, who are now investigating, working jointly with the 'Scambusters' team for London, the South East and East of England. They are now looking into complaints from two other victims in Colchester and a further two in London, which are thought to involve the same gang of men.

Councillor Roger Walters, executive member for trading standards at Essex County Council, said: 'These men have been using intimidating tactics, banking on the idea that if they have started work householders will let them carry on and finish and then pay them. Our trading standards officers, together with Scambusters, are following up various leads now to track them down. We also warn the public that they should never deal with home maintenance traders who cold call at their homes.'

'Scambusters' - specialist trading standards teams that work with police and other agencies to crack down on rogue traders, dodgy door-step salespeople, counterfeiters, cowboy builders and many other scams - were recently awarded an extra £7.5 million by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to continue the schemes until March 2011.

Pilot teams in the South East, East and London, the North East and Central England have, since being set up in September 2006, seized more than £2 million worth of criminal assets, uncovered an estimated £16 million worth of fraud and achieved around £3 million in savings for consumers. They focus on larger scale scams, working across local authority boundaries on a regional basis, using intelligence to target traders causing problems in their areas.

Steve Playle, TSI spokesman and manager of the South East Scambusters, said: 'The continued funding from the Government will enable us to close the net even tighter around rogue traders that exploit and cheat millions of pounds out of vulnerable customers every year. It give us more resources to tackle scams like the one perpetrated on Tricia Faulkner and other people in that area and in London.'

Trading standards, police and Consumer Direct were among agencies that, in May, carried out a national 'Operation Rogue Trader' day aimed at leaving no hiding place for the criminals and highlighting to local people how they can prevent themselves and their neighbours from becoming victims. Local authority trading standards services across the Midlands continued the action with a Rogue Trader Awareness Month. Besides swooping on suspected rogue traders, there was a radio advertising and leaflet and road show campaign to urge members of the public to beware of doorstep crime and to report anything suspicious they see to Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or the police. (See more about the success of this action in 'notes to editors'.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: 'Operation Rogue Trader and the Scambusters demonstrate how trading standards professionals, the police and a wide range of other agencies are working together to tackle this blight on local communities all over the country. This concerted, high-profile national action has done much to raise awareness of how people can report any suspicions they may have that rogue traders are operating in their area and how they can protect themselves against this menace.

'But the rogues and conmen who bring despair and misery to the lives of so many - for instance, by cold-calling and charging extortionate rates for home maintenance work or using it as a distraction while they steal - should know that it is not just during operations like this that they will be under the spotlight. trading standards professionals, jointly with local communities and other agencies involved, are working day in and day out in our determination to leave no hiding place for these criminals.'

Further information: contact Trading Standards Institute Press Office on 0845 608 9430

Notes to Editors

Trading standards successes in the fight against rogue traders:

  • Partners across CEnTSA (Central England Trading Standards Authorities) and TSEM (Trading Standards East Midlands) inspected over 300 traders - over a third of which failed to comply fully with the law. In the most serious cases, traders had failed to inform consumers of their rights to cancel their contract, while others had made false statements in contravention with the Fraud Act (2006). During Operation Rogue Trader, six people were arrested and are now the subject of further investigation, four vehicles were seized and further investigation is now going on into possible tax evasion offences.
  • Five men have been charged with a number of criminal offences following a lengthy investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police, working closely with the Trading Standards Scambusters Team that covers the East of England, London and the South East. The investigation related to driveway resurfacing work.
  • Four men who conned an 81-year-old Hampshire pensioner out of his £75,000 life savings were jailed in May for a total of 14 years at Southampton Crown Court. It followed an investigation by Hampshire Police, working alongside the regional Scambusters team. (Further information: Steve Playle, Scambusters project manager, on 01372 371686).
  • As part of Essex County Council's pledge to make Essex the safest place to live in England within five years, every household in the county will receive a free 'No Cold Calling' sticker to display on their front door or window. (Further information: Michael Page, 01245 438418).

Tricia Faulkner's Story:

Tricia Faulkner, who provides medical cover on TV and film sets, as well as playing the part of a medic on screen when needed, said: 'I was getting quotes for a new section of drive because my existing one is so steep - and these men knocked on my door and offered to give me a quote.

'They had called out of the blue but, as I was expecting someone else to come round to see me about the work, I let them give me a quotation.

'They quoted me £2,300 but I told them I was getting other quotations for the work and did not tell them to go ahead.

'Then, 18 hours later, I returned from a night shift on a film set in Weymouth, to find my garden area had been dug up - and they had started digging up my neighbour's drive without consent. It was a real shock.

'They carried on working and then upped the price for the work to £3,700. I gave them no money and told them to stop work while I obtained a surveyor's report - costing £110 - which said the hard core they had used was just huge lumps of broken-down road material and the area where my car would be parked had no hard core at all.

'I also found that other people in my road and in neighbouring streets had had similar work started without their consent and that the work was shoddy and uneven. I recorded their car registration numbers and gave them to the police and trading standards.

'My garden is left looking a mess and is dangerous - but I can't afford to pay the amount needed to put it right.'

The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2008, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) - a 'must' for consumer journalists!

The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.

Conference 2008 is being held at Bournemouth International Centre from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 June. The conference press office will be open from 8am on Monday 23 June (the day before the event starts) until 2pm on Thursday 26 June.

Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.

The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Bryan Lewin.

Almost 2,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.