A Warwickshire based builder who defrauded consumers living across the West Midlands of almost £58,000 has been sentenced to three years and 10 months imprisonment.
John Douglas Sellers of Coventry Road, Kingsbury, who traded under the false company name of John Douglas Improvements Ltd was investigated and subsequently prosecuted by Warwickshire County Council Trading Standards.
Mr Sellers took thousands of pounds worth of deposits from consumers for work that included replacing garage roofs, building kitchen extensions, loft conversions and conservatories and fitting windows. However, little or no work was ever carried out and projects that he started were almost always abandoned. On several occasions, Mr Sellers also left properties damaged and in an incomplete or unsafe condition and gardens dug up, leaving his customers to pay again to have the work done properly and repairs made.
One consumer paid Mr Sellers over £18,500 to build a single-story extension to her home. He began by removing a chimney breast with no Building Control approval, left the consumer with no working lights, and then abandoned the job.
In another case, Mr Sellers was paid over £2000 to carry out work on a consumer’s kitchen but did little more than remove an exterior door on the consumer’s property and fit it to his own house!
Mr Sellers was paid almost £15,000 by a consumer whose property he then abandoned, causing his customer stress and anxiety and suffering financial difficulties.
Any work carried out by Mr Sellers was largely done to convince his customers to make further payments to him and on one occasion he pretended to be speaking to a supplier to convince his client to pay more, there and then. He then drove the customer to the bank to withdraw £1900 after using this ruse.
Mr Sellers, who one of his customers described as ‘convincing’, strung his clients along with a range of excuses to avoid starting or completing projects, including falsely claiming that he had suffered a stroke. He even continued to trade fraudulently after he was aware Warwickshire Trading Standards had become involved.
Several building suppliers also lost out after Sellers failed to pay for materials he obtained from them.
Warwickshire County Councillor Andy Crump, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said:
“Consumers put their trust in the traders they employ, and it is unacceptable that anyone should be treated in this way. Fraudsters not only deprive their victims of their hard-earned cash, genuine tradesmen who would have done a proper job lose out too.”
“I’m delighted that Warwickshire Trading Standards was able to bring this fraudster to justice.”
At Warwick Crown Court, (sitting at Leamington Spa) on Thursday 5th March 2020 John Douglas Sellers (age 30, of no fixed abode) was sentenced to 46 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to nine offences under the Fraud Act 2006.
His Honour Judge Berlin presiding, said that the sheer frustration and upset caused to his customers by Mr Sellers deplorable actions must have been extreme and that he took Mr Sellers remorse with a ‘pinch of salt’.
In mitigation, Ian Speed representing Mr Sellers said that his client was a qualified bricklayer who made the ‘fateful decision’ to set up in business himself after the company he worked for went bankrupt. He stated that Mr Sellers had got plenty of work in at first and had completed up to forty jobs but had overstretched himself and took on work that he knew he wouldn’t be able to complete.
Building Work Top Tips
- Before you start any home improvement project, check to see if you require building regulations approval or planning permission.
- Spend time finding a good builder. Seek recommendations from family and friends or consider using a Trading Standards approved trader (visit: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/approvedtraders). Ask to see examples of their work.
- Seek written quotes from at least three traders before you decide who to use. Be wary of traders who won’t quote in writing or whose quotes are so low they really are ‘too good to be true’.
- Ensure that the builder has public liability insurance and other insurances as necessary.
- You can’t tell a good builder from a bad one on the doorstep. Don’t buy from unexpected doorstep traders.
- For more information visit: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/consumeradvice
*Ben Mills of St Philips Chambers represented Warwickshire County Council
**Ian Speed of St Philips Chambers represented Mr Sellers