Deceitful workman conned nearly £40,000 from elderly victims living alone on the Yorkshire coast
A doorstep conman who took more than £39,000 from elderly and vulnerable victims in the Scarborough area has been jailed for two and a half years following an investigation involving North Yorkshire Trading Standards.
Walter Lee, 46, has also been banned from ‘cold calling’ homes anywhere in the UK for the next decade and now faces legal action under the Proceeds of Crime Act which could strip him of assets to repay money taken.
He pleaded guilty to four offences of fraud and two under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 this week and was sent to prison as a result.
The case against Lee, of Blackpool, was investigated by the multi-agency safeguarding team Operation Gauntlet, which is hosted by North Yorkshire County Council’s Trading Standards service.
Lee’s offending took place between September 26, 2018, and July 3, 2019, netting him a total of £39,880 from victims.
All who fell prey to Lee had work done at their properties, including roofing, power washing and other repairs but much was found to be of poor quality, they were substantially overcharged or the work was not completed despite them paying Lee’s bills.
Among his victims were a 79-year-old widow from Filey who was taken to the post office by Lee to withdraw cash. She paid £4,000 and although he offered to repay half after her son intervened, he only returned £900. Another £2,000 is now also required to put right the work Lee did on her home.
At Scalby, a 72-year-old woman agreed pay £150 for gutter clearing but ended up paying £8,250 after Lee claimed she needed further work. A surveyor later concluded the repairs should have cost only £3,750 but the quality of Lee’s work meant his efforts were only worth £1,710.
A Robin Hood’s Bay resident, aged 72, who is now in a care home with dementia, was given two invoices, for £3,000 and £6,000, but a surveyor could find no evidence of work being done to justify the second charge at all.
Lee also targeted a 78-year-old widow from Scalby whose daughters were trying to assist her in maintaining her home following their father’s death. Despite the roof being replaced in 2016, Lee claimed moss was causing the structure to sag and that it needed work costing £14,000.
He also claimed work to the drive was needed, giving a total charge of £18,600. A surveyor appointed by Trading Standards valued the work at £4,710.
Lee was sentenced at York Crown Court where the judge set out a timetable for Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation proceedings and imposed a 10-year Criminal Behaviour Order, barring him from cold calling addresses in the UK or getting others to do so for him.
In a victim personal statement one of the daughters of the 78-year-old widow told the court: “As a result of this I feel I have no choice but to force my mum to live closer to me. This is a very difficult and upsetting decision, as she has lived in that house for 40 years..
"The stress and upset he has caused has been profound. Both my sister and I are key workers. Front line NHS staff who worked throughout the Covid pandemic. We have a strong work ethic and try our best for all our patients. The fact that Walter can cheat my family the way he has and leave such destruction and upset in his path leaves me without words.”
Her sister added: “Emotionally it has been very challenging for our mum, my sister, and myself, we have been traumatised by the experience and it has increased our mistrust of tradespeople.
"I hope Walter has time in prison to reflect on his conduct and repent. These people believed in him and he took their money and let them down, and caused great stress and anxiety along the way.”
Another victim said: “I feel violated and very vulnerable at the minute. I’m so disappointed and embarrassed about it all. Hindsight is a great thing. I took in good faith what this trader was telling me. I’ve learnt a lesson.
"That money is important to me. I’ve earned that money honestly and I’m very careful with my money. I now have to save that money again to get my roof repaired.”
Two victims also praised the Operation Gauntlet team and the support offered by Trading Standards officers.
Coun Andrew Lee, executive member for Trading Standards, added: “Yet again we have seen the callous behaviour of these doorstep criminals exhibited by Walter Lee.
"Please do not deal with doorstep callers. Legitimate businesses do not need to cold call and you should deal with local traders by recommendation through family, friends and neighbours.
"I would also warn any like-minded offenders that, if they are thinking of coming into North Yorkshire to target our elderly and vulnerable residents, our Multi-Agency Safeguarding Team will respond accordingly. We have a zero tolerance approach to such offending.”