Fish seller who conned elderly out of £100K sentenced to 3 and a half years

A door-to-door fish seller who targeted elderly and vulnerable customers using dishonest and aggressive sales techniques has today been sentenced.

A door-to-door fish seller who made £100,000 by ripping off elderly and vulnerable people has been sentenced to 3 and a half years – reduced to 2 years and 4 months which will be served immediately - today at Teesside Magistrates Court for defrauding customers through his company, D T Shanks Fresh Fish*.

Between June 2016 and February 2021, Darren Shanks, 53, of Elm Crescent, Kimblesworth, Chester-Le-Street, County Durham, conned customers across the Midlands and the North of England by mis-selling over-priced fish using aggressive, unfair and dishonest business practices. Mr Shanks pleaded guilty under the Fraud Act 2006 on 28 July 2022.

Mr Shanks was also handed an indefinite Criminal Behaviour Order for his actions.

Despite several previous attempts to get Mr Shanks to comply with the law, his activities continued to generate complaints. Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council led the prosecution after an investigation by the National Trading Standards North East Regional Investigation Team.

Statements were taken from more than 45 victims, many of whom felt they had no choice but to pay and were left feeling cheated and ashamed. Investigators found that, like other criminal fish sellers operating in the area, Shanks sourced fish cheaply and sold it at exorbitant prices, mostly to elderly and vulnerable people, many of whom lived alone.

Ignoring hygiene standards, Shanks didn’t record the temperature at which fish was stored and often failed to label the fish properly, such as missing use-by dates. Many of his customers threw away their fish due to its bad taste or smell.

On the doorstep, Shanks used dishonest and aggressive sales techniques. These included claiming fish was fresh when it had been frozen, lying about the cut or species and selling underweight fish. He falsely claimed that he supplied a famous fish and chip shop in Whitby and had a regular round in the victims’ area. He often failed to mention price until the fish was in the victim’s home and regularly left excessive quantities, without giving customers the chance to inspect their purchase.

Several victims describe feeling threatened by Shanks’ reaction when they said they couldn’t afford to pay or challenged the price. One victim, who took over negotiations from her husband who had advanced Parkinson’s disease, was subjected to aggressive tactics, and afterwards felt ashamed that she had been bullied into buying the fish. Another victim, who lives alone, described feeling ‘quite scared’ and ‘very intimidated’ as a result of Mr Shanks’ harassment after she cancelled her cheque after realising the fish was inedible.

To date, eight other mobile fish sellers from the North East have been identified, convicted and sentenced before the Crown Court and two more cases are pending.

Wendy Martin, Director, National Trading Standards, said:

“People should feel safe in their home and should not be intimidated on their own doorstep. In this case, many of the victims were on a pension and could not afford to lose the money they did. We are grateful to those who gave their statements – thanks to them, this man can no longer cause harm.

“Shanks profited from the shame and fear he instilled in his victims, knowing that elderly and vulnerable customers could be more easily bullied into parting with extortionate sums for fish that was in many cases, inedible. We are determined to rid neighbourhoods of these fraudsters and this case shows yet again that our crackdown on criminal traders in the mobile fish selling industry is working. I’m proud of our teams for their tireless efforts.

“Anyone who has been a victim or knows someone who has, can report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.”

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact the National Trading Standards press office by emailing or calling 020 7101 5013

*Various versions of the trading name D T Shanks Fresh Fish were used, as well as Grimsby Fish. The defendant also regularly traded without a name or contact details.

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.