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Cowboy builder from Hartlepool who ripped of pal and left home a wreck walks free from court
A COWBOY builder who ripped off a long-time friend and left his family home a wreck walked free from court - even though a judge said: "You richly deserve a custodial sentence."
Martin Bennison was told he was being spared prison because his victims might stand more chance of getting their money back if he kept his liberty and was able to work.
Bungling Bennison left Hartlepool GP Jitandra Patel and his family more than £40,000 out-of-pocket and their executive home resembling a flood-damaged building site.
The 53-year-old promised to meet a deadline for the work to refurbish five en-suite bathrooms, build an extension and install an electric garage door and entrance gates.
Teesside Crown Court heard that he had built the family home in Wolviston, near Stockton, years earlier, and had carried out work at the doctor's Seaton Carew surgery.
Prosecutor Richard Bennett said the two families had become close and Dr Patel, 67, trusted Bennison to stick to his word about the alterations to the house.
Yet, the court heard that the work he did was sub-standard and overpriced, lots of it was not done and he took advance payments for materials which he never bought.
After the case, the doctor's son, 33-year-old accountant Yaomi, said: "We were promised an extension, new gates and a garage door which we simply did not get.
"It is only now - more than a year later - that the work has been done but we have had to pay other tradesmen to do that, so effectively we have paid twice for the jobs."
Dr Patel said: "It was an horrendous time, really stressful, a nightmare really. There were many sleepless nights and lots of anxiety and distress."
Ian Mullarkey, for Bennison, of Martin Grove, Hartlepool, said he was suffering with financial and personal problems at the time, and said: "The situation was pretty desperate.
"He regrets it deeply and while that won't be much comfort for the Patel family, it was born out of the most dire of circumstances he found himself in."
Dr Patel and his wife were preparing for their daughter's wedding and wanted the jobs to be completed before a number of guests arrived from India for the celebration.
Bennison did some work in one bathroom, but did not cap the water pipes properly and a resulting flood took months to fix, the court heard yesterday.
The family had to use four air driers for three months to clear the damp, while the flood also caused damage to the ceiling and downstairs furniture.
Mr Bennett said the eight charges Bennison admitted - under consumer protection legislation - are designed for "the incompetent and negligent rather than the thoroughly dishonest".
The court heard that the builder lost his wealth in the crash of 2008 when he had ploughed lots of money into a scheme in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
He is now operating as a sole trader, is separated from his wife, living with his daughter, and is hoping to make enough to pay back the Patel family.
Imposing a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 300 hours of unpaid work, Recorder Tim Gittins told him he had come close to being jailed.
"For the sake, potentially, of Dr Patel in terms of getting anything back from you, it would be better for me to suspend the sentence," the judge told him.
"Whilst it may give little comfort to Dr Patel and his family, who may think you richly deserve an immediate sentence, but I bear in mind you are still in work and may be able to pay compensation in due course."