15th February 2023

Rogue builder jailed for fraud offences

A rogue builder has been jailed for three years following an investigation by Southwark Trading Standards.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The aftermath was incredibly stressful. The financial impact was huge – but beyond this, the impact reached into all aspects of our lives

A rogue builder whose fraudulent activities cost his victims more than a million pounds has been jailed following a prosecution brought by Southwark Council Trading Standards.

Richard James Nicholls (38) was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and disqualified from acting as a company director for six years at the Inner London Crown Court on 23 December. He had previously pleaded guilty to four fraud charges relating to a range of false claims and fraudulent activities.

Nicholls left work unfinished, causing severe disruption to his victims (image credit: Southwark Trading Standards)

Nicholls duped his victims into paying for unfinished, incompetent and potentially dangerous work on their homes, causing significant disruption and emotional damage in the process.

Yemisi Forrest, Principal Trading Standards Officer at Southwark Council, who was the lead investigating officer on the case, said: “One victim and her elderly mother were effectively made homeless while the work was being carried out – they had to move from sofa to sofa, and put all of their things into storage. It was really upsetting.”

Several of Nicholls’s victims experienced severe financial hardship as a result of his actions and were forced to borrow money to rectify the problems he had caused. One commented that Nicholls’s “lies, deceit, and total lack of moral compass left my wife and I emotionally and financially traumatised”.

“The stress caused by his greed and sheer ineptitude as a building contractor caused my wife to suffer panic attacks whilst heavily pregnant with our first son. Despite me pleading with him at the time to make right his wrongs and telling him what we were going through, he disappeared into thin air.”

Another of Nicholls’s victims said: “The aftermath was incredibly stressful. The financial impact was huge – but beyond this, the impact reached into all aspects of our lives.”

In total Nicholls left his victims more than £1.1m out of pocket, after the sums paid directly to him and the further costs necessary to repair the damage he had caused were taken into consideration. One victim, who had already paid Nicholls £90,000, was forced to shell out a further £150,000 to rectify mistakes he had made.

“Another victim’s daughter had to have counselling because of the upheaval and the stress of it all,” said Forrest.

Nicholls and the four companies he managed came to the attention of Southwark Trading Standards when the team received complaints that he had taken large sums of money for work that was never completed and, in some cases, never started. He also took money for materials that he never bought and failed to pay sub-contractors, who would then harass his victims for payment.

Building work on one family’s kitchen overran repeatedly, forcing them to live in their living room and use a microwave to cook meals. The work was never finished by Nicholls.

When customers complained about poor progress, he would cite family difficulties and personal issues. At one point he claimed he was going blind.

Analysis of his bank records carried out by council financial investigators showed that Nicholls used £52,000 received from his victims for online gambling.

Justin Miller, Trading Standards Team Leader at Southwark Council, said: “This was a huge investigation, and it is the first time that we’ve we applied for and received support from the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team. This additional support meant we were able to access resources to assist with taking statements from the many victims.

“We saw the disregard with which people’s money was being used. We looked at his bank statements for some days and would see money coming in from victims, and just being spent on online gambling.

“We have applied for a restraint order on Nicholls’s accounts and are confident that we will be able to get back at least some of the money for his victims,” Miller added.

“The fact that Nicholls has done this to others shows that he has no regard for the immense distress his actions have on other people,” commented one of his victims. “We believe that a strong sentence is the right outcome given the long-lasting trauma that his actions have had, and we hope it will deter him from doing the same thing to others in the future.

“We are extremely grateful to Yemisi and the team at Trading Standards for their hard work in bringing Nicholls to justice. This has been a long journey, but they have managed to make it as stress-free as possible. Bringing Nicholls to justice is something we wouldn’t have been able to do ourselves, and he would most likely have carried on doing the same thing to other people – which shows how vital Trading Standards’ work is.”

Trish Burls, Chair of the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team, said: “Nicholls preyed on his victims under a veil of lies, false claims and deceit. He deliberately misled people into agreeing to home improvement works that he was not qualified to carry out, leaving victims distressed and out of pocket by tens of thousands of pounds.

“This sentence sends a clear message that, in the long-run, fraudulent trading does not pay – instead, it ends behind bars.”

Miller added: “The sentence demonstrates just how seriously the courts took this particular case. People’s homes can often be their pride and joy, and when they are reduced to a wreck with no windows and no floors, it goes beyond just being a civil issue. This was a demonstration of fraud, of taking money from vulnerable victims.”

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