Today three mobile fish sellers who defrauded and knowingly misled elderly and vulnerable consumers out of approximately £325,000 have been sentenced to a combined total of 8 years at Teesside Crown Court.
Between 19 November 2016 and 25 June 2019, Matthew Dudding (32), Paul Dudding (60) and Daniel Whitley (44) used aggressive sales practices to pressure over 100 elderly victims into purchasing excessive quantities of poor quality fish at exorbitant prices.
The three fraudsters deliberately targeted vulnerable and older people living in the North of England and the Midlands, including people with serious health conditions, in the belief they were less likely to question the sale or complain. Some victims felt threatened in their own home if they challenged the price of the fish or couldn’t afford to pay.
A 90-year-old victim described feeling bullied and pressurised into purchasing a large volume of fish after one of the fraudsters entered her home uninvited. Despite agreeing to pay £56.00, she was charged £156.00 without her knowledge. The experience has left her feeling vulnerable.
A significant amount of the produce sold by the trio was such poor quality that it was unfit for human consumption. Food safety management procedures were often ignored, including monitoring the temperature for storing fish. One victim became unwell with vomiting and sickness within a few hours of eating the fish supplied by the defendants.
The sentences handed down were as follows:
- Matthew Dudding, the principal financial beneficiary of the fraud, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading, and was sentenced to 5 years, 11 months and 2 weeks
- Paul Dudding and Daniel Whitley both pleaded guilty to contravening professional diligence, contrary to consumer protection legislation, and were sentenced to 13 months each
The investigation was led by the National Trading Standards North East Regional Investigations Team.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“Elderly and vulnerable customers were viewed as soft and easy targets by these unscrupulous fraudsters who have, over a number of years, demonstrated a callous attitude towards their victims. Those who fell for the scam were left feeling angry and ashamed. In addition to the dishonest practices demonstrated by these criminals, some of their crimes took place during a period when clear social distancing requirements were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those requirements were flagrantly ignored by the defendants in order to make money, with little, if any regard to the risks to their victims.
“If you or someone you know, has fallen victim to a fraud like this you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 03454 04 05 06.”
Notes to Editors
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a “safety net” to limit unsafe consumer goods entering the UK and protecting food supplies by ensuring the animal feed chain is safe.