Seven men have been sentenced at Leicester Crown Court for their part in a fraudulent emergency plumbing operation that preyed on victims across the country. Three of the men received custodial sentences totalling more than four years following an investigation by Trading Standards officers at Leicestershire County Council.
The fraud centred on two companies – trading under various names* – that claimed to provide a 24-hour emergency plumbing business. The companies deliberately targeted older people or people in vulnerable situations, luring victims with illusory ‘10% OAP discount’ offers that never materialised.
Unsuspecting customers were vastly overcharged for work which was a relatively low-cost job, or work that did not need doing at all. Engineers dragged out jobs deliberately in order to charge more money and messages between the defendants show them joking about what they have charged and pushing for higher figures.
It’s estimated that the companies extorted more than £1 million in revenue from more than 650 consumers. More than 150 complaints were made by customers to Trading Standards via Citizens Advice Consumer Service.
The sentences handed down were as follows:
- Russell Scott Canfield (aged 44, of Elsalene Drive in Groby, Leicestershire) – 40 months imprisonment. He was also disqualified from holding any directorship for seven years.
- Benjamin Peter Molloy (aged 33, of Stafford Street in Barwell, Leicestershire) – 27 months imprisonment
- John Egon Stott (age 38, of Corporation Road, Ilkestone, Derbyshire) – 24 months imprisonment
- Leighton Wayne Costello (27), Richard Robert Jones (38), Zackary Morgan (21) and Stephen Anthony Rice (46) all got 15-month sentences, suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
The prosecution also included an eighth defendant, Liam James Cuffe (aged 40), who pleaded guilty to two charges of fraudulent trading in respect of both companies. He was killed in a road accident in December 2019, so was not included in the sentencing.
The case was led by Leicestershire County Council with additional support and expertise provided by National Trading Standards.
Gary Connors, Head of Regulatory Services, Leicestershire County Council, said:
“These defendants all had their part to play in an emergency callout business which was set up from the outset to extract substantial sums of money from the elderly and vulnerable. This was a widespread and despicable fraud perpetrated across the country, despite previous undertakings given to Trading Standards to trade lawfully and a subsequent expose on BBC Watchdog.
“The top-down culture was about exploiting the ‘callout’ scenario to extract the maximum payment from the victim, regardless of the true cost or necessity for a repair.
“This case sends a clear message to those who choose to participate in this type of criminal activity, whether as the directing mind of the business or as a complicit employee - you will be prosecuted.
“While a case of this nature involving multiple defendants can be challenging in terms of resources and complexity, it is absolutely essential that we utilise the prosecution process, not only to support victims but to ensure honest businesses in this sector are not undermined.”
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“These criminals ruthlessly targeted vulnerable consumers, cheating them out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by overcharging for shoddy or unnecessary plumping repairs. Many of the victims were older people who have lost considerable amounts of their life savings. I hope these sentences provide some comfort to the victims and their families.
“These sentences should serve as a warning to anyone engaging in similar schemes – your actions will not be tolerated you will be prosecuted. If you suspect any similar cases of criminal trading, we urge you to report it to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.”
Costs and compensation under the Proceeds of Crime Act will be finalised at a hearing in June 2020.
Notes to Editors
Notes to Editors
* The fraud involved two companies – Faster Response Ltd (initially Crimson Maintenance Services Ltd) and Prestige Property Solutions (Midlands) Ltd. Several different trading names and addresses were used in various locations, including NG Services, Swift Solutions Maintenance, Flame Plumbing & Heating, CMS, Quick Call and LC Services
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.