A BUILDER who conned customers into paying in advance for work that was often never completed, or in some cases never started, has been jailed for a year.

Paul Phillips, who traded as PPS Windows, Doors and Conservatories, from his home in Brackenfield Road, Framwellgate Moor, Durham, used his friendly, approachable nature to convince worried clients everything was in order, but in time left some out of pocket by several thousands of pounds.

Durham Crown Court heard he used a variety of excuses why work was delayed, in one case saying the mother of an imaginary colleague had died overnight, and in another claiming he was unable to attend their property as he was on a charity walk.

The court was told that apart from losing their down payments and not having the work satisfactorily completed, or, in one case left having to pay another builder to rectify sub-standard work, it caused the customers great anxiety and frustration, destroying their trust in trades people generally.

Phillips, 64, traded apparently without blemish for up to 30 years, until March 2019, when he was convicted at magistrates’ court of a single count of engaging in commercial practices contravening professional diligence for which he received a one-year conditional discharge.

When he appeared before the crown court last month, he admitted two counts of fraud and two of engaging in misleading commercial practices, all committed in 2019 and last year, putting him in breach of that earlier conviction.

Phillip Morley, prosecuting, said one count related to a replacement shed he was to buy and install for a customer for £1,250, but which never materialised and which he later admitted having never ordered.

A second customer lost a £1,093 deposit for replacement windows to be installed, which were, again, never ordered.

Another was duped into paying £12,700 for a house extension which only had sub-standard work carried out, by Phillips’ son, for which he had to pay another builder £4,000 to rectify.

Mr Morley said a fourth conned customer paid £620 for repair work which was never carried out and for which he was continually fobbed off, when he asked for a refund.

Chris Baker, representing Phillips, said until the age of 63 he had never been before a court, having led a law-abiding life, working for between 20 and 30 years as a self-employed builder.

But as his business began to fail in 2019, he turned to “criminality”, accepting he lied and misled customers, “in a desperate attempt to keep his books afloat.”

Mr Baker said: “In retrospect, it was inevitable the business would fail and he now appreciates he should have shut up shop before putting these people through the misery they have suffered.”

The court heard Phillips is now in full-time employment but, despite struggling to repay his own debtors, could offer £200 a month as compensation.

Judge Ray Singh said Phillips was “given a chance” by the magistrates’ court sentence of March 2019 to show he could trade normally, “without ripping customers off”.

Imposing a one-year prison sentence, Judge Singh added that the general public should be able to trust tradesman and Phillips had brought the whole profession into “disrepute”.

The prosecution was brought by Durham County Council's trading standards department.

Speaking after the hearing, Owen Cleugh, the council public protection manager, said: “This trader’s activity not only fraudulently removed thousands of pounds out of the pockets of unwitting customers, but caused a great deal of stress, damage and mistrust for the victims involved.

“Unfair commercial practices such as these are unacceptable and we will continue to investigate any suspected fraudulent activity or misleading practices.

"This case shows that traders have a responsibility to trade fairly, and those who do not should expect to face the consequences of their actions.”

* To find out more about the work of the council’s trading standards team, and to report concerns of unfair commercial practices, visit www.durham.gov.uk/tradingstandards