Builder jailed after defrauding elderly
A BUILDER botched a home extension, then forged papers enabling its sale to go ahead to unsuspecting pensioners, who were left thousands of pounds out of pocket, a court heard.
The couple, in their 80s, discovered the “confidence trick” when they tried to sell the £180,000 house, in Market Harborough, a year later.
Michael Hunter – who works for Leicestershire charity Stride, teaching building skills to people from disadvantaged backgrounds – was jailed for 18 months.
He pleaded guilty at Leicester Crown Court to fraud, by falsely representing that building work at the house was certified as complete by Harborough District Council, between July and September 2010.
Hunter (51), of Station Road, Kibworth Beauchamp, now faces an investigation into his finances to establish whether any assets can be seized, or compensation paid.
Alan Murphy, prosecuting, said the defendant carried out a loft conversion, extension and installed a conservatory.
He submitted plans to the council.
During a site visit in March 2007, “several areas of concern” were pointed out to Hunter, which he ignored and never contacted them for approval of the completed work.
When the buyers’ solicitor requested a buildings certificate, Hunter forged the document on his computer and signed the name of an existing planning officer. The document looked nothing like the real thing.
The pensioners’ solicitors accepted it as genuine, no checks were made with the council and the sale went through.
In the summer of last year, the owners discovered the document was bogus.
The fraud wiped up to £50,000 off the house value, until remedial work was done.
Sentencing, Judge Silvia De Bertodano said: “This was a confidence fraud.
“The complainants ended up trapped in a house you fraudulently sold them.
“I accept you’ve led an entirely blameless family life apart from this and references speak highly of you as reliable and trustworthy.
“But you forged a document for the purpose of securing a house sale and you derived significant benefit. It’s the biggest financial decision most people make in their lives.
“Even if the documents did not look like the real thing, they looked enough like it for a firm of solicitors to accept them as genuine.”
Harry Bowyer, mitigating, said: “It was a thoughtless crime, a quick-fix fraud. He never met the victims and did not know they were elderly.”
Speaking to the Mail after the hearing, the householder said: “The police have been working on it for two years. They’re looking into compensation. That is the next step. He hasn’t got anything or so he says.
“We’ve both had bad health, sleepless nights. We wanted to get nearer the town. If we hadn’t put it up for sale we would never have known.
“I’ve had sleepless nights – not had a good night’s sleep for two years because it is always there on my mind. We are too old for this.
“We came to Harborough to retire and for a nice life and then we get this.”
Commenting on the sentence, he said: “I’m pleased but it should have been longer. It would have been five years if I’d had my way.”
He has had to pay £11,365 for remedial work, to obtain a genuine building regulations certificate.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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