A young tradesman has narrowly avoided being sent to prison after admitting to ripping off a number of customers when he became overwhelmed with his workload.

James McDonagh was told he would have gone immediately to prison if he had acted as a ‘rogue trader’ who targeted elderly and vulnerable people.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 26-year-old took payment for some jobs without turning up to carry them out as well as performing shoddy workmanship on some properties.

A number of complaints had been received by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council’s trading standards’ team but the court heard how the defendant ignored their offers of advice.

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Ben Thomas, prosecuting, said most of six victims had been left out-of-pocket by McDonagh’s shoddy work practices between March and September 2021.

One client was left with a dodgy roof repair after handing over £600 to have work carried out. Mr Thomas said McDonagh failed to carry out the necessary remedial work to the property in Middlesbrough.

Another man handed over £300 for work to be carried out in his garden but the defendant never returned after receiving the deposit for the work on the home in Ormesby.

A Guisborough man handed over £500 to have fake grass installed at his home but he was unable to contact the defendant when problems with the workmanship arose, the court heard.

McDonagh left another customer more than £1,000 out-of-pocket after failing to carry out a landscaping project despite taking a deposit from the homeowner.

The fifth victim to come forward had also paid a deposit for work to be done on his garden but McDonagh failed to perform the job he was asked to do.

And the final victim handed over £250 for work to be carried out on a patio so her terminally ill mother could enjoy her garden in the summer. Mr Thomas said the work was never carried out and the woman did the work herself as she had lost faith in tradesmen as result of McDonagh’s con.

The court heard how the defendant regularly used the excuse that he was having problems with his van as a reason for not turning up to carry out work.

McDonagh, of Rockpool Court, Redcar, pleaded guilty to four charges of fraud by false representation and six charges of breaching unfair trading regulations.

John Nixon, mitigating, said his client had not acted as a ‘rogue trader’ but had simply been overwhelmed with work and behaved in a naïve way through his fledgling business.

He said: “There is no suggestion of overcharging, indeed, what he charged was quite reasonable.”

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Mr Nixon said there was a video of the damage caused to his client’s van in August 2021 and told the judge that the defendant was no longer working as a self-employed tradesman.

Recorder Anthony Kelbrick sentenced McDonagh to ten months in custody, suspended for one year and warned him that if he had been a ‘rogue trader’ then the sentence would have been immediately activated.

McDonagh was also ordered to pay £2,752.50 in compensation to his victims and a further £3,000 towards court costs.