A father-and-son pair of rogue traders have been given suspended prison sentences after defrauding elderly and vulnerable consumers by overcharging for unnecessary work and pretending their chimneys were blocked by dead birds.
Hammersmith & Fulham Trading Standards launched an investigation into Luke and Martin Price, aged 34 and 59, following a complaint from a local resident.
During the four-year inquiry it emerged that the pair had demanded huge sums for putting unnecessary cowls on chimney tops, including £5,790 from a man in his late 80s whose wife has Alzheimer’s disease.
They also bullied and swore at one female victim, who was reduced to tears after being presented with a scribbled ‘invoice’ for £1,862. She eventually gave Luke Price £400 just to get him out of her house after he began threatening her.
When their victims weren’t looking, the conmen ‘found’ carcasses of birds to trick them into paying for more expensive work. In one case they produced a bucketful of dead birds, claiming they had been recovered from the roof.
In many cases, the pair didn’t even bother to sweep the chimneys.
They were exposed in a BBC Rogue Traders episode in which secret filming showed Martin Price take a dead pigeon from a sack and hide it in a fireplace he was supposed to be sweeping.
When confronted on camera by presenter Matt Allwright, Luke Price claimed he was an animal lover and had merely fitted the chimney cowls to protect wildlife. However, in a subsequent interview he confessed to the scam and claimed he had “given in to temptation when work was slack”.
Sascha Meding, vice-Chair of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, who assisted with the Rogue Traders programme, said the pair’s actions amounted to extortion. The fraudsters demanded up to £325 for each cowl, despite them really costing £20 apiece.
‘Mean, nasty and unpleasant’
After admitting conspiring to defraud vulnerable householders out of at least £13,000, Luke and Martin Price were sentenced to 14 months and eight months imprisonment respectively on 20 September. However, Recorder Arwel Jones suspended the prison sentences for a year and a half. He called their behaviour “mean, nasty and unpleasant”.
Martin Price will also be forced to pay £5,000 in costs and Luke Price was ordered to carry out 150 hours’ unpaid work and 30 days of rehabilitation. He was also barred from being a company director for seven years.
Cllr Rebecca Harvey, Hammersmith & Fulham Council Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Community Safety, said she was “immensely proud” of the council’s Trading Standards team and the work they do to help keep residents safe.
“Residents have the right to expect that when they invite traders into their homes, they can trust them to do the work they promised. And to do that work to a decent standard, to the price agreed and not to be ripped off or become victims of fraudulent greedy selfish behaviour of con artists,” she said.
The pair operated under the names of several different companies, all with Luke Price as director and based in Ashford, Surrey, including: Complete Chimney Care; Premier Chimney Care Ltd; Complete Roof Care Ltd and London Chimney Company. All the companies have now been dissolved.