Rogue Wetherby trader jailed for ‘useless’ work

A rogue trader who fleeced a husband and wife out of thousands after carrying out “useless” work on their home has been jailed for 10 months.

By Janet Harrison
Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 3:05 pm

Thomas Howell, 35, from Wetherby, had been contracted to carry out work on the victims’ conservatory, porch and driveway after assuring them he had “knowledge and competence” in that field, York Crown Court heard.

In fact, he had no such experience and laid foundations for the conservatory which were woefully inadequate and built conservatory walls which were so sub-standard they had to be demolished and rebuilt, said prosecutor Andrea Parnham.

The couple, who were named in court, were quoted £6,400 for work on their porch and driveway, £3,250 for landscaping and £18,000 for the conservatory.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

Work began in February last year and the porch was completed, but the victims, from Tadcaster, had concerns about the standard of work, particularly regarding the conservatory supporting walls.

“By this time, they had paid (Howell) just over £10,000,” said Ms Parnham.

In March 2020, Howell asked them for two further payments of £2,500 for landscaping materials and £9,000 for conservatory materials.

The husband agreed to make these payments but very shortly afterwards the country went into lockdown due to the Covid pandemic, which meant that all work on the property ceased.

In early April of that year, his wife asked Howell to return the £11,500 they had paid him for the materials until the lockdown had lifted.

Instead of returning the money, Howell sent them a text saying, “the money was safe and not to worry”.

About a week later, they made another request for their money to be returned, but still Howell procrastinated.

During an email exchange on April 14, he told them there was a “problem with his bank (account)”, adding: “Unfortunately, it’s just not as simple as sending the money back. I would need to call my bank to request that.”

Howell told them that his bank had “put my account on hold” and that he had had to “go through an investigation”.

In June, the couple instructed a structural engineer to carry out a survey of the work done on their conservatory and porch.

The expert said the conservatory footings were only half the requisite depth as required by the industry. Worse still, they were told their walls would need to be demolished and rebuilt and their foundations re-laid.

“They have not had their £11,500 returned to them,” said Ms Parnham.

Investigations revealed that the £9,000 had been deposited into Howell’s account on March 17 and was “taken straight out on the same day”.

The victims had since secured County Court judgements against Howell regarding the unreturned payments and the £2,000 they had paid him for “poor” work on their porch.

Neither of those judgements had been satisfied by Howell, who was declared bankrupt in October 2020.

The couple had since paid £4,500 to other contractors to carry out remedial work on their conservatory following Howell’s botched job.

“They aren’t people with lots of money sloshing around to pay for this work,” said Ms Parnham.

They had been forced to take out loans to pay for the demolition and rebuild, she added.

She said that Howell’s deceit had left the female victim “depressed, stressed and anxious”.

Howell, of Ceres Road, admitted fraud and recklessly engaging in an unfair commercial practice. He appeared for sentence on Wednesday.

Stephen Munro, for Howell, said the father-of-three had led a previously blame-free life and had not set out to defraud the couple when he took the job on.

“He was intending to get help to complete the work but he was let down and decided to complete the work himself,” added Mr Munro.

“It was too much for him. He fully accepts that he messed it up.”

He said that Howell - whose bankruptcy was discharged in October this year - had family responsibilities and was “extremely sorry for the standard of work”.

Judge Simon Hickey said the couple had been “significantly” affected by Howell’s fraudulent behaviour.

He told Howell: “They trusted you. You assured them you had competence to do (the work). In fact, you didn’t have any of these attributes at all.”

He said that “free-flowing transactions” to and from Howell’s account did not result in any attempt “to supply goods or work”. Instead, he “fobbed off” the couple with a string of lies.

Jailing Howell for 10 months, Mr Hickey said it was the “least sentence I can impose for defrauding these two innocent people and creating useless work”.

Although the £11,500 unreturned money was covered by the County Court judgement, the judge ordered Howell to pay the victims £4,500 compensation for the remedial work on their conservatory.

Howell will have to pay that sum in instalments once he is released from prison halfway through his sentence.