Lee Slocombe, a 32-year-old builder from Pontypridd, has been jailed for three and a half years, after conning three victims out of £43,000. In one case, the cowboy builder conned a sick pensioner out of £8,500 of her life savings.
Slocombe was employed to lay a £350 deck in the garden, and used a combination of lies to trick 72-year old Maggie Surridge from Caerphilly out of thousands of pounds. Most despicably of all, he laid much of the blame for his poor work and frequent absences on non-existent lung cancer.
The Daily Mail reported that Slocome was originally employed to put down decking, but told his victim that the front and back walls were dangerous and needed rebuilding. When he had convinced her to pay him to do the job, he conned her into having a porch built.
To make matters worse, the newspaper said, he never stayed for more than an hour, explaining to Surridge that he had to go to hospital for treatment and scans for his lung cancer. Slocombe, of course, was not ill. In fact it was his victim who was struggling with illness, waiting for open heart surgery, which was made worse by the stress of having her home in such a state for nine months.
She was just one of three victims that Slocombe conned out of a total of £43,000.
According to the Caerphilly Observer, one of the other couples he ripped off were a pair who wanted alterations to their miner's cottage in Aberbeeg. They wanted him to knock down a wall and extend the kitchen, but he kept saying he found more problems with rotten floorboards, stairs and windows. The original £6,000 bill rose to £13,500, and after they paid he disappeared, leaving the house in ruins. They ended up bringing in Channel Five programme Cowboy Builders to rectify the damage.
Spot the cowboys
Over the last few months we have seen a handful of despicable cowboy builders pass through the courts: many of whom left homes and lives in tatters. It's always stressful finding someone to complete work on your home, and if you're not an expert, it can be difficult to tell the cowboys from the professionals.
Citizens Advice has released ten tips, which they say should help you spot a cowboy builder. They say you should be extremely careful if:
1. They offer a particularly cheap quote. You should get three quotes so you have a rough idea of what the project should cost, and if one is significantly below the others, it may be a sign they plan to bump the charges up later.
2. They are unwilling to put the quote or estimate in writing. This is to save them from being held to account.
3. They won't offer you a contract - or won't sign it. This will leave you with less legal protection if they fail to do what they have promised.
4. They don't offer references. You should be able to go to visit references in person to check the work is up to standard - and if they cannot offer that, they may not be legitimate.
5. They are keen to start straight away (often because they like to do a number of jobs in an area and then move on so they can't be traced).
6. They will not tell you the business address and landline number so you can check them out.
7. They are not in a trade association (or they claim to be but they are not). It's essential to check claims like this before you appoint a builder.
8. They claim to be part of a reputable company, but they're not. It pays to check this with the company concerned.
9. They ask for money up-front - a reputable builder should be able to cover the cost of materials and only ask for payment after they have at least completed a significant proportion of the work.
10. They don't charge VAT and only accept cash. If they earn below a specific level then they don't have to charge VAT, but it can be a warning sign. Meanwhile, a cash payment avoids a paper trail - which you may want to rely on if things go wrong
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