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Rogue builder prosecuted for preying on elderly

Paul Birch pleaded guilty last month at Sheffield Magistrates Court of defrauding his victims out of £4,200. The case was committed to Sheffield Crown Court for sentencing.

Birch, aged 44, of Richmond Hall Road, Sheffield, pleaded guilty to offences under the Fraud Act 2006 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.  He was sentenced on 9 October to a 20 month custodial sentence with a further six month sentence to run concurrently.

The judge told Mr Birch he was a ‘thoroughly dishonest person’ and said he was satisfied that Mr Birch had committed a ‘sophisticated fraud’.

Mr Birch defrauded his latest victims while on licence from prison in respect of a previous sentence.

In his guise as a professional builder he quoted an 81-year-old woman £4,000 to carry out building works at her home.

Within hours of the work starting, Mr Birch intimidated, harassed and coerced the elderly widow into paying him £4,000 for building repair work and drove her to the bank with written instructions to give to the bank to withdraw the cash.

During the investigation, Sheffield Trading Standards commissioned an expert assessment by an independent Building Surveyor who concluded that the work was of such poor quality the value of any acceptable work was exceeded by the cost of removing the damage caused.

Just two months later, Mr Birch misled another victim when he gave her a fictitious eight-year guarantee for roof repair works he carried out. This victim paid £220.00 in cash for the work but when the roof continued to leak Mr Birch failed to repair the problem.

Lewis Dagnall, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene at Sheffield City Council, said:
This is another excellent result for the council’s trading standards service in our drive to combat doorstep crime.

The council has an important responsibility to act to protect its residents from doorstep criminals. Our trading standards team follow up on all complaints of doorstep crime, with more than 100 incidents involving elderly or vulnerable residents reported across the city since this investigation began.

Our priority is to safeguard those at risk and disrupt the trader’s activity. This important work continues with a number of other criminal prosecutions pending.

Mr Birch used Facebook to advertise his services trading as Sheffield Household Maintenance and Home Improvements.  His page contained many images and posts relating to work he claimed to have carried out to give the impression of being an honest, competent and legitimate trader. However, he admitted during an interview that this impression was false; that none of the work was his and the images were from the internet or were of other tradesman’s work which he had falsely claimed were his own.

He had previously received a 9-month custodial sentence in July 2017 for similar offending. In that case, he and his two co-accused swindled £2,000 from an 89-year-old woman for cleaning her gutters and then attempted to get her to withdraw a further £1,500 from the bank. A quick-thinking member of staff at the bank raised suspicion and prevented this further withdrawal from being made.

This investigation was part of the wider Not Born Yesterday Campaign which aims to protect elderly and vulnerable people from all aspects of financial abuse from telephone scams to doorstep criminals. It is the third custodial sentence achieved by Sheffield Trading Standards.

Last year, Sheffield Council’s Trading Standards officers intervened in more than 30 serious incidents of doorstep crime involving elderly or vulnerable residents and investigated dozens of allegations of rogue trading.

The officers have also been visiting hundreds of people at risk of mail and phone scams. Thousands of door stickers and leaflets have been distributed across the city. A number of other criminal prosecutions are pending.

Download advice and leaflets on the Not Born Yesterday campaign.

Anyone with concerns that someone they know may be a victim of scammers or rogue traders should call 0345 4040506, email or visit Trading Standards on the council's website.