Criminal solar panel firm owners convicted of fraud

Philip Mark Harris (49) of Kingsbridge Devon and Roy John O’Grady (45) of Olton Road Solihull have been found guilty of fraud following a four-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

Pair duped 90 West Midlands victims of £30,000

Philip Mark Harris (49) of Kingsbridge Devon and Roy John O’Grady (45) of Olton Road Solihull have been found guilty of fraud following a four-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

O’Grady and Harris entered not guilty pleas to all the charges but the jury found O’Grady guilty on 23 counts and Harris guilty on 11 counts of fraud.

The offences concerned the pair (along with a third man, Julian Mark Attwood (45) of York Ave Bromsgrove) offering so-called ‘free solar panels’ deals to the public in 2011. They used two fraudulent companies, Solar Energy Company UK Ltd and Solar 4 Free Ltd.

Victims were caught out primarily through supplying their contact details to trade stands at shopping centres, following which they then received a telesales call. Some victims reported receiving cold telephone calls to arrange appointments.

Victims across eight local authorities in the West Midlands were convinced to pay between £250 and £395 for legal fees and Land Registry searches. They were then told that a third party investor would pay for the solar panels to be supplied and fitted to their home, that they would enjoy free electricity and that the investor would then receive the tariff payment from the National Grid on the surplus electricity generated.

However the court heard that there was never a third party investor in place to pay for the installations, nor were the necessary legal work and searches ever carried out.

In addition some “free solar panels deal” customers were duped into buying a full solar system. They paid a £3,500 deposit towards the cost but never had any panels installed.

The court heard that in June 2011 a dispute between Harris and O’Grady resulted in the closing of the business after O’Grady had drained all the funds out of the business account.

Angry customers complained to local Trading Standards officers and an investigation was launched by the National Trading Standards Scambuster Team Central England. Nearly 90 victims were identified, who lost around £30,000 between them.

The Court heard from victims who had lost their money, together with former employees and suppliers who had not been paid.

A third culprit – Julian Mark Attwood (45) of York Ave Bromsgrove – pleaded guilty on the 11th January 2016 to 10 counts of fraud for his part in the scam.

O’Grady has been remanded in custody immediately, with HHJ Bond ruling that he should start serving his sentence straight away. The case has now been adjourned with sentencing due to take place on 17th March 2016.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards said: “I am delighted that the investigation by our Scambuster Team has led to this successful prosecution. These criminals misled homeowners, leaving them out of pocket and I am pleased that they will be brought to justice.

“I urge everyone to think twice before agreeing to purchase products from cold callers and on-street salespeople – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Always check references and credentials before paying out any money and if you are in any doubt, contact your local trading standards department or the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.”

Notes to Editors

Consumers within the following Local Authorities were affected by this scam: Birmingham, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Solihull, Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

About National Trading Standards

- National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.

- National Trading Standards funds the Scambuster Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams:

1. Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA)

2. North East Trading Standards Authorities (NETSA)

3. Trading Standards East Midlands (TSEM)

4. Trading Standards North West (TSNW)

5. Tri Region Scambusters (TRS), on behalf of Trading Standards South East Ltd (TSSEL), East of England Trading Standards Association (EETSA) and London Trading Standards Association (LoTSA)

6. Trading Standards Partnership South West (SWERCOTS)

7. Yorkshire and Humber Trading Standards Group (YAHTSG) and

8. Wales Heads of Trading Standards (WHoTS)

The CeNTSA team is hosted by Birmingham City Council on behalf of the 14 authorities that make up the Central England region which includes Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Herefordshire, Sandwell, Shropshire, Solihull, Staffordshire, Stoke on Trent, Telford & Wrekin, Walsall, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire.

There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.

For more information please