Jailed: Cowboy builder who ripped off Stevenage widow
PUBLISHED: 17:29 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:14 11 October 2017
A cowboy builder who ripped off a recently-widowed Stevenage woman was jailed on Friday by a judge who told him he should hang his head in shame.
Thomas Lee, from Orpington in Kent, increased an initial £60 quote for a roof repair to a whopping £28,500 within a week – and has now been jailed for 40 months.
Passing sentence on the 24-year-old at St Albans Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Carroll told him: “You should look at her and hold your head in shame.”
The court heard that in May 2015, the 67-year-old victim used a website to state she needed work done on her roof.
She was contacted by Lee, who carried out an initial assessment and said he could repair a small patch for £60.
But every time he went near the roof space, he told her it needed more work done urgently – and the bill quickly sky-rocketed.
Judge Carroll told Lee: “When you turned up and realised she was a moderately elderly lone pensioner, you saw a cash cow to milk to the full extent.
“You convinced her of the urgency of the work to avoid imminent collapse, and she felt no alternative.
“She was in a continual state of fear, stress and anxiety. You set out from the beginning to systematically defraud her.”
The judge said the victim had confided in Lee about the recent loss of her husband, and he appeared to be sympathetic to her.
He said: “She displayed her vulnerability. You looked her in the eye and exploited it.”
Prosecutor Andrew Johnson said the woman had been left feeling inadequate, vulnerable and insecure in her own home.
Lee, of Barnfield Road in Orpington, appeared for sentence having pleaded guilty to five charges relating to fraud, aggressive commercial practice and acquiring criminal property.
Judge Carroll said: “This is the category of case sometimes referred to as a rogue trader case. In your case a cowboy builder.
“You should not be near a building site in any circumstances other than as a hod carrier for someone else.”
The prosecution against Lee was brought following investigations by Herts County Council’s Trading Standards team.
County council deputy leader David Williams said: “This case really highlights the torment and damage that victims can experience at the hands of cowboy builders. The sort of behaviour displayed by this individual for his own gain will always be challenged by Trading Standards and brought to court where appropriate.
“We hope that the supportive comments from the judge towards the victim will encourage others to come forward to Trading Standards with their concerns about rogue traders. The sentence reflects the seriousness with which this matter has been viewed.”