A cowboy gardener who charged exorbitant sums for substandard work has pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering offences.
Benjamin Brown, 62, of Cox Lane, Epsom preyed on elderly and vulnerable victims who were unable to look after their gardens themselves.
He was prosecuted by Surrey County Council’s trading standards officers and last week pleaded guilty at Guildford Crown Court to eight Fraud Act offences and four Proceeds of Crime Act offences relating to sums up to £665,000.
Brown traded under the names Greenfingers Gardening and Homecare Property Maintenance, offering services such as landscape gardening, paving and fencing.
He advertised in local newspapers including the Epsom Guardian, in parish magazines and by posting adverts through doors but would charge exorbitant prices for poor quality work. Customers complained that queries about price or the standard of work led to threats, verbal abuse and aggression.
In one case, a woman in her 90s approached Brown after seeing a newspaper advert because she needed help maintaining her garden. Brown started work at her home without giving her any notice of her cancellation rights and charged her £24,500. A surveyor later judged the value of the work to be only £400.
In another case, Brown charged a man £17,000 for works carried out at his home, again after failing to give notice of cancellation rights. A surveyor valued the work at £200.
A third victim paid £7,000 for work carried out in his garden. Brown returned on a number of occasions without prior arrangement and started work not requested by the customer, who felt too intimidated not to pay. He paid Brown £1,500 simply for tidying his garden.
Brown’s victims were mainly in Surrey, with some also living in Sutton, Wallington, Richmond and Twickenham. His offences were carried out over a seven-year period from 2006 to 2013.
The prosecution against him was led by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards*, who worked with trading standards officers from Sutton Council.
Richard Walsh, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing, said: ‘We are committed to protecting our most vulnerable residents and doing everything possible to stop rogue traders like Brown in their tracks.
‘Brown charged excessive sums for poor quality work and intimidated customers who challenged him but, thanks to the diligent work of trading standards officers in both Surrey and Sutton, he has now been brought to justice.’
Brown will be sentenced on 14 August after probation and medical reports have been prepared.
Brown also faces a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act where trading standards officers will seek to get funds returned to his victims.
* Buckinghamshire and Surrey operate a joint trading standards service