A GANG of rogue traders were jailed for a total of 14 years for defrauding householders and businesses across large parts of northern England while doing tarmac works at their premises.

The men - Shaun Thomas Sr, 50, his sons Shaun Thomas Jr, 28, and Henry Hartley Thomas, 25, all of both Holmelea traveller’s site, Elvington, York, and Malim Road, Darlington - and their associate Thomas Mounsey, 56, of Durham Road, Bishop Auckland, were convicted after a three week trial.

Shaun Thomas Sr, Henry Thomas and Thomas Mounsey were also convicted at Teesside Crown Court of money laundering offences in relation to the proceeds of the offending.

The investigation was conducted by Operation Gauntlet, the multi-agency safeguarding team hosted at North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards.

It began in July 2016 after complaints were received by trading standards and the police from residents about false statements being made by the men when they cold-called offering tarmacking services.

Prosecutor Richard Bennett told the court that the they claimed they were working for the Highways Agency or local councils doing legitimate road repairs nearby, and had material left over so could do driveways and parking areas at a knock-down price.

Thinking they were getting a good deal and were contracting with legitimate traders the residents unwittingly agreed to employ the fraudsters.

Mr Bennett said works were carried out to areas which were not agreed to, and when jobs were completed the men demanded significantly higher prices - in most cases, the prices were inflated tenfold.

In the first report to police and trading standards, a resident from the Whitby area agreed to works to his farm track. Based on the price he was quoted he calculated the final bill would be around £2,300. On completion of the works, he was presented with an invoice for more than £23,000. When he queried the price and refused to pay, he was bombarded with phone calls from Henry Thomas and Thomas Mounsey, leaving him fearful and intimidated.

In another case, a woman who was alone at home in East Riding agreed to works to her driveway. She calculated the bill should be in the region of £500, but the gang demanded £2,500. One of the males, Shaun Thomas Sr, followed her into her home. He eventually dropped the price to £2,200 which she paid. She described feeling too frightened to argue and wanting the situation to end.

In a further case, a disabled woman living near Pickering, North Yorkshire, agreed to works to her parking area after calculating from the quoted price that the final bill would be around £200. When the works were completed she was told the price was £2,500 plus VAT. She described being shocked and telling the men they were mistaken. They insisted the price was right and told her she needed to pay that day, but if she paid in cash they wouldn’t charge the VAT. She had to borrow £2,000 from a relative to pay the bill. She described feeling "totally ripped off" and having a great deal of stress and anxiety to find the money.

The men traded as Franky Direct Ltd, HRT Trading Ltd and TNT Asphalt Services, using business addresses in Darlington.

Evidence was presented showing they had no connection to any of the authorities they had associated themselves to and that, in fact, they were purchasing tarmac to order when they had secured a contract after cold-calling residents.

Jailing each of the gang to three-and-a-half years, Judge Sean Morris said: "I have had to see witnesses eye-to-eye in this case who were scared. They’d been scared by you lot. I take the view this was an unpleasant and deliberate conspiracy.

"Where people didn’t come up with what you wanted, if necessary, a lot of pressure was applied. It was as near as dammit to a blackmail case or robbery.

"I think there was a degree of targeting rural farms. There was no police around. They felt vulnerable to attack and repercussions.

"I am of the view this was a well-planned, well-organised family affair, with you Mounsey, a close friend, the getter of work and enforcer when it didn’t go right. A lot of people were deeply upset by you.”

Commending North Yorkshire Trading Standards he added: "I never fail to be impressed with way the investigation was conducted by Trading Standards. It was meticulous.

"This is the third or fourth case in last year or two I have heard and they are fast-becoming the organisation setting the benchmark for fraud investigations.”

County Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for North Yorkshire Trading Standards said: “Organised crime groups who target our residents, including those who are vulnerable, can be assured they will face a robust response from our multi-agency team. We will work with partners to ensure they are effectively disrupted to protect our residents, send a clear message to others who seek to behave in this way, and to remove their ill-gotten gains and compensate the victims.”

Speaking after the case, one victim said: "The vast majority of people live their lives and do an honest day’s work to provide for themselves and their family. Those fortunate to retire do so with the hope of being able to enjoy time for themselves.

"It is regrettable that there are those who have a different view on life and prey upon them, probably seeing them as easy targets in order to fund their own lifestyles. They obtain money fraudulently without thought of the consequences - destroying the confidence of people, taking their savings, putting people in debt, all without conscience with regard to the means used.

"It is hoped that the rule of law and decency brought into action by North Yorkshire Trading Standard continues to bring justice for victims and, perhaps, discourage those who may see that lifestyle as a career opportunity.”

Another added: "North Yorkshire Trading Standards have done an amazing job seeking justice for all the victims, including myself, who have been taken advantage of by these unscrupulous men. I am delighted that they have been found guilty and have nothing but praise for the trading standards officers who dealt with this case.”

Acting Detective Chief Inspector Jon Hodgeon, of North Yorkshire Police, added: "This is a fantastic result and a testament to the power of partnership working. Fraud and organised crime are priorities for North Yorkshire Police with rogue trading and doorstep sellers posing a particular threat, specifically to the most vulnerable members of our community.

"I would like to thank the officers of both Trading Standards and North Yorkshire Police for their hard work in tackling this gang and I would say to anyone thinking of coming to North Yorkshire to commit crime that we will find you and will bring you to justice.”