• Two trading standards services on different sides of the country have worked together to convict a rogue trader who preyed on the elderly and the vulnerable.

Self-employed gardener James Holmes, 29, has been sentenced to 200 hours community work after being found guilty of fraud.

Holmes, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday 12 July 2017.

The court heard how Holmes had targeted elderly vulnerable people in Yaxley in Cambridgeshire, and Exeter, Devon, to get them to agree to have work carried out in their garden.

In May an elderly Exeter resident complained to Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service about Holmes.

Despite having just a name and phone number, trading standards were able to trace Holmes and then passed the information to the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Trading Standards team 240 miles away. They prosecuted Holmes under the Fraud Act 2006.

Holmes also pleaded guilty to one count of engaging in aggressive commercial practices in order to get the victim to agree to the contract contrary to Regulation 11 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Holmes' business J&H Landscapes is registered to Thorney Road, Eye, and offences took place between May and August 2016.

The Yaxley victims were cold called by Holmes who offered to carry out work on their patio, path and driveway for £450. No cancellation rights notice or written quote were provided as required by law. The elderly couple also did not give written permission to start the work straight away.

Holmes contacted the Exeter victim after she used a user rated price quotation website for gardening work.

The victim initially said no to him doing the work because she felt his price was too high. However, Holmes pursued the job and reduced the price until she felt unable to say no to an agreed price of £800.

Holmes did not provide this quote in writing or give the victim a notice of her rights to cancel the work within 14 days. He did not get her express written permission to start the work straight away.

After he started the work he insisted that he wanted payment in cash and not by BACS and it was at this point the victim decided to stop Holmes from working on her garden.  This incident left the victim afraid to leave her own home.

In mitigation, the court heard how Holmes was a naive person and was not vindictive. It was claimed that he had an unstable income and a young family to support. He now realised he should have taken advice before setting up in business.

Trading Standards’ advice is that if you think you have been ripped off or are concerned about a trader’s trading practices you should contact the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Service on 03454040506.

They will pass on information to Trading Standards.  If someone you believe to be a doorstep criminal is on your property now, and you feel threatened, contact the Police on 999 immediately.

Councillor Stuart Barker, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards said: “By working with other services, using modern technology and through intelligence sharing, rogue traders can run but they can no longer hide.
“This case demonstrates the value of using intelligence databases, and how effective they can be in our work to protect consumers, when all you have is a name and a telephone number.”

Councillor Anna Groskop, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards said: “Rogue traders can no longer avoid the consequences of their actions by targeting victims hundreds of miles away. We can trace them with just the minimal amount of information. If you are thinking  of having work done on your property you should always try to obtain three quotes from reputable traders before agreeing to work. A list of trading standards vetted traders can be found on our BuyWithConfidence website.”

Councillor Robert Excell, Torbay Council’s Executive Lead for Trading Standards, said: “Victims of doorstep offending and rogue trading tend to be elderly and vulnerable and can suffer both emotionally and physically after an offence.
“Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service will continue to take enforcement action and work with other agencies and other services around the country to protect residents from unfair trading practices.”

If you know of a scam or are being scammed call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on: 0345 404 0506

No consumer should be pressured into agreeing to a contract on their doorstep.  Consumer Protection Laws provide a minimum 14 day cooling off period for contracts concluded away from business premises where they are over £42. Devon, Somerset & Torbay Trading Standards Service runs the Buy With Confidence scheme where you will find traders who have been approved by Trading Standards.  For more information on avoiding doorstep crime, see our Doorstep Crime Information Pack, produced in partnership with Devon & Cornwall Police.

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