Two rogue tree surgeons were sentenced to five years in prison at Croydon Crown Court having pleaded guilty to offences of fraud by false representation.
James Cunningham from Gateshead Tyne and Wear and Essex based Peter Varey obtained work from consumers in Bromley having distributed flyers in the area, advertising tree care and garden works. These flyers displayed false addresses and the phone numbers listed were all unregistered.
In all these cases Varey and Cunningham set out to deceive the victims into parting with substantial amounts of money. They used sophisticated methods, deliberately setting out to hide their true identities and targeting vulnerable people. The offences took place between June and September 2015 and the victims were all elderly women who lived alone.
“This is a stark reminder to us all and our advice is to carefully check the credentials of any trader you are about to agree work with. Do bring this case to the attention of older relatives or friends as our experience shows they are particularly at risk as they are often targeted in similar scams. These commuting rogue traders were ruthlessly cynical and have deliberately set out to take as much money as they could from their victims and despite their distance from our Borough, this prosecution should serve as a warning to other potential offenders that they are never beyond the law” said Councillor Kate Lymer, Executive Councillor for Public Protection and Safety.
Cunningham was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years on account his wife had recently died and he had five children to support. He was ordered to attend a Thinking First Programme and 30 days rehabilitation activity requirement and warned he would go straight to prison if these were breached.
Varey was sent to prison for three years. Both were ordered to repay their victims.
In the first case, the victim wanted some small shrubs removing from her front drive as the roots were blocking a drain. She was quoted £200. The shrubs were cut back and she was then told that the cost had risen to £1000 as there were 5 shrubs. She was also told that if she wanted the waste removed the cost would rise further to £1210. The victim went to the bank to collect the money, but the bank staff recognised this as rogue trading and called Bromley Trading Standards. Peter Varey pleaded guilty to this offence
The next case concerned a woman who called Evergreen Tree Services from a flyer in order to have some conifers cut back and a magnolia tree tidied. Varey and Cunningham attended her property and quoted £1250 for the work, she was also told that the waste removal would be charged at a further £170. The work was carried out and the men then told her that the £170 was per ton and as they had removed 18.5 tonnes of waste the price had risen to almost £5000. Despite feeling very threatened by the men the victim argued the price down to £2750. The work completed was valued at £210.
The third case involved a 90 year old woman who contacted Evergreen tree Services to remove some ivy from a wall. Varey was one of the men who attended. She agreed to a price of £400 and was told that the waste removal would cost a further £170 per ton. When the work was completed she was told that a lot of waste had been removed and that the cost had risen to £4600. She was taken to a local bank to withdraw the money but the bank manager recognised this as rogue trading and contacted Bromley Trading Standards.
The final case involved a 77 year old woman who contacted J & B Tree Care to cut back a small conifer in her front garden. Varey and Cunningham attended and quoted £600 plus £170 per ton for waste removal. When the work was complete she was told that almost 7.5 tonnes of waste had been removed and the cost had risen to £1875. She was also accompanied to the bank to withdraw cash. An expert has valued this work as £100. The victim later contacted Trading Standards.
A full Trading Standards investigation was conducted. The BBC Watchdog programme carried out a ‘sting ‘operation which featured Varey and Cunningham. At the request of Trading Standards police arrested both men who were later identified by the victims as being involved in the offences. A third suspect was also identified and he remains at large.