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Cowboy Builders Can Expect Stern Punishment - Court of Appeal Ruling

Cowboy builders who rip off householders are a well-known blight on society. As a Court of Appeal ruling showed, however, judges are well abreast of their activities and culprits can expect severe punishment, up to and including imprisonment.

The case concerned a man who approached a total of 16 homeowners, offering to carry out repair or refurbishment work. In some cases, he took money in advance but never started work. In others, he began jobs but the work was invariably unfinished and performed to a very poor standard. He was said to owe close to £50,000 to householders from whom he had extorted money.

After the local authority for the affected area launched proceedings, a judge ordered him to provide financial redress to his victims and to desist from any similar conduct in the future. The council sought his committal to prison for contempt of court on the basis that he had breached that order. Following a hearing, which he did not attend, a judge sentenced him to a nine-month jail term.

In dismissing his appeal against that outcome, the Court noted that he had, in similar circumstances, previously received a six-month sentence in respect of proceedings brought by the Office of Fair Trading. That punishment, however, had little or no deterrent effect. The more recent nine-month term was entirely justified and fell well within the reasonable band of sentencing decisions.

The man asserted that he had physical and mental health problems and had recently tested positive for COVID-19. The Court noted that it remained open to him to seek discharge or variation of his sentence on the basis that he was medically unfit to go to prison. Such a contention would, however, need to be supported by appropriate documentation or other evidence.