A BUILDER with a previous good work reputation has been jailed after defrauding customers out of a total of almost £111,000.

Stephen Loughlen’s downfall was his gambling addiction which often saw him losing more money than he had been paid to carry out some of his contracted work.

Loughlen, who traded as Newcastle Facilities and Maintenance Ltd, took payments from customers, in Consett, County Durham, in Cullercoats, North Tyneside, and in Hartburn, Northumberland, to carry out work on their homes.

He subsequently continued to ask for further sums for building materials and extra labour that he claimed was needed to complete the jobs.

In each case he failed to finish the work, leaving customers hugely out of pocket and faced with having to pay other contractors to complete the job satisfactorily.

Durham Crown Court heard he came up with a variety of excuses to fob off the increasingly despairing customers for the delays, including cash flow problems and bad weather.

Phillip Morley, prosecuting, said one customer paid Loughlen £61,000 for an extension to her property, only for the work to stall over a period of months.

When Durham County Council’s trading standards team launched an investigation, a chartered surveyor estimated the true value of the work undertaken was found to be just £14,083.

Another victim paid him more than £56,000 for a project on her home, but the work was sporadic, with Loughlen providing excuses such as blaming wind and rain.

Following inspection, the work carried out was found to have been worth just £28,418.

The victim never received the roof trusses, windows, internal doors, roof tiles, external wall tiles, and combi boiler, all items which the defendant claimed to have purchased with the money paid to him.

Loughlen’s final victim paid him £52,000 for work on her house which he said would be completed by Christmas 2018, although its true value was just £22,757.

As progress slowed to a halt Loughlen emailed the victim in July 2019 to say he was not completing the work, leaving her with a loft and roof that were open to the elements, plaster falling from the ceilings and the house and garden in a dangerous state.

The victim was forced to use money from her husband’s pension to engage another builder to finish the project started by Loughlen.

During the investigation officers discovered that a large amount of the money paid by the victims had been spent on gambling instead of being spent on the projects.

When interviewed by trading standards officers, Loughlen confirmed he had undertaken the work, provided the quotes and took money from the three complainants.

Despite initial denials, the 55-year-old defendant, of Sunset View, Flint Hill, near Stanley, changed his pleas to guilty on the day of trial in November, last year, to three counts of fraud each, on behalf of himself and the company, based on Hobson Industrial Estate, Burnopfield, County Durham.

Read more: County Durham builder admits defrauding clients of £110k

The case was adjourned to enable Loughlen to raise money to repay the victims, but, having raised only £3,583 from a recent auction of possessions and with £2,000 in his bank, Judge Ray Singh said it was, “a pittance”, compared to the losses suffered by his customers.

Imposing a three-year prison sentence, Judge Singh set in motion crime proceeds proceedings, with a mention scheduled at the court in August.

He also banned Loughlen from being a company director for five years.

Owen Cleugh, the county council’s public protection manager, said: “Unfair commercial practices such as the ones demonstrated in this case are unacceptable and not only leave consumers out of pocket, but can cause a great deal of stress and worry to the victims.

“The case should act as a reminder to traders that they have a responsibility to act fairly and honestly and, if they fail to do so, they should expect to face the consequences.”

Further information about trading standards and how to report concerns about unfair commercial practices is available via www.durham.gov.uk/tradingstandards, on the council’s website.

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