Three fraudsters have been sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court today (4 February 2022) for their part in an elaborate property improvement scam which saw victims conned into paying deposits totalling nearly £800,000 for building work that was never undertaken.
Two of the criminals were convicted of conspiracy to defraud and sentenced to a combined eleven years and a third was convicted of fraud and received a suspended sentence of 14 months (suspended for two years).
The elaborate scam involved the fraudsters falsely posing as a building company – Contemporary Home Improvements Limited – to receive deposits for high-end building improvement works. The deception convinced homeowners across London and the home counties that Contemporary Home Improvements Limited was a legitimate business through a range of lies and falsehoods, including:
- Using a kitchen extension built by someone else as a false show home to lure in payments from prospective victims
- Fake reviews on their website
- Visiting homes and pretending to be a qualified architect, including carrying a business card bearing the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) affix.
Contemporary Home Improvements Limited was registered to an address in Camden and – following a sudden increase in complaints about the company in late 2017 – National Trading Standards investigators and the Metropolitan Police Service conducted a joint investigation in partnership with Camden Trading Standards.
The complex investigation led to charges against four individuals based on activities carried out by Contemporary Home Improvements Limited between February 2017 and October 2017. Three of the defendants were found guilty at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 24 November 2021 and the fourth entered a guilty plea earlier in the proceedings. The sentences handed down today for each individual are as follows:
- Brian Tutton (aged 62), who set up Contemporary Home Improvements Limited, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and sentenced to 7 years. Mr. Tutton was also banned from being a director for ten years.
- Scott Baker (50), was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and sentenced to 4 years. Mr. Baker was also banned from being a director for five years.
- David Gogo (30) previously of Barringer Square, Tooting, was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 14 months, suspended for 2 years. Mr. Gogo was also ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work.
- Louise Shiankwang (49) of Grinstead Lane, Lancing, was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 22 months, suspended for 24 months. Ms Shiankwang was also ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work and pay a £140 surcharge.
The joint investigation meant that complaints and intelligence from different organisations could be combined into one single, larger investigation, avoiding duplication and pooling expertise.
Wendy Martin, Director, National Trading Standards, said:
“These deceitful fraudsters went to great lengths to conceal their dishonest operation behind a glossy façade, enabling them to con trusting homeowners into handing over large sums of money for building work they had no intention of carrying out. Our teams work hard to protect consumers and today’s sentences are a reminder that criminals who engage in these types of scams will be prosecuted.”
Trish Burls, Chair of the NTS Tri Regional Investigation Team said:
“Our team continue to support local authority Trading Standards services in progressing complex and complicated investigations such as this and the sentencing imposed should send out a clear message to all those involved in fraudulent activities that they will be investigated”
Councillor Richard Olszewski, Camden Council Cabinet Member for Finance and Transformation said:
“The fraudulent nature of this company, based in Camden, was brought to the attention of our Trading Standards team in 2017 when we received an influx of related complaints.
“Following a joint operation undertaken by Camden Trading Standards, National Trading Standards and the Metropolitan Police Service, which resulted in successful convictions, it is gratifying to note that the sentences given demonstrate fully the seriousness of the crimes committed.
“This also highlights the important of Camden’s Trading Standards service working with a range enforcement agencies and council partners to tackle fraudulent behaviour, which too often impacts on vulnerable residents.
“I congratulate Camden trading standards officers and all agencies involved for this successful outcome.
Notes to Editors
*This press release was updated on February 15 2022 to include the sentence of Louise Shiankwang that was handed down separately on February 14 2022.
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.
Guidance from Camden Trading Standards
Choosing a builder can be stressful. You should ideally ask for written quotes from at least three companies with reputations to maintain and also ask for referrals from family and friends. Otherwise, there are organisations such as ‘Which Trusted Trader’ and ‘Buy with Confidence’ that vet trades.
If a business claims to be a member of any trade association, you should check that their membership is current, and what membership means if there are problems.
Don’t be rushed into making a decision. Once you’ve found your builder, have a written agreement covering what works are to be done, start and completion dates, security and safety, waste disposal and hours of working.
If possible, pay in stages. In some cases, a credit card will offer extra protection. For further advice contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or visit Citizens Advice