'Cowboy builders' accused of £1 million fraud

A gang of cowboy builders fleeced homeowners out of nearly £1 million for work they never did, a court heard today.

The builders quoted for contracts totalling £1.8 million, then collected as much cash up front as possible before leaving their victims "in the lurch" and disappearing.

Mark Dixon, 43, Nicholas Harris, 45, Matthew Higgins, 33, Leighton Docksey, 34, and Lee Ireson, 30, are accused of conning more than 50 people across the south of England, Bristol Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Rupert Lowe, opening the case for the Crown, told jurors that the five ran two linked firms called Construction Management Development Ltd and CMD Services Ltd in Gloucester.

"This case concerns a fraud by what we generally call cowboy builders," Mr Lowe told the court.

"Their business was to get as much money out of their customers as quickly as they could and leave them in the lurch with a half-finished project and in a mess.

"They were left out of pocket by the greed and dishonesty by the five men in the dock.

"They found it was a very profitable way of doing business."

Mr Lowe said the gang operated by targeting homeowners who had been granted planning permission for extensions.

The gang claimed to be specialists at one and two-storey extensions and would offer very competitive quotes, an early start to the job and supply references from supposedly satisfied customers.

"They were given the names of referees who had been previous customers of CMD, or so they thought," Mr Lowe said.

"Either they were customers whose work had just started or they were completely fake."

Mr Lowe said that once a contract was signed, the victims would be asked to hand over a deposit of between 10% and 20% ahead of work starting.

One victim was quoted a price of £238,000 for work to his home and was conned out of £20,000, jurors were told.

"The work seems to have started well and some of the customers were asked to be referees and many of them agreed to do it," Mr Lowe said.

"These contracts were heavily front-loaded with a hefty deposit and then a payment on day one.

"Very soon customers were paying quite a lot more money than the valuation of the work done so far.

"But sooner or later some of the customers thought they were paying a high price for the amount of work being done.

"When they questioned the arrangements, they were told, 'We'll have to stop', and quite a few were told if they didn't pay, 'We'll have to sue you for breach of contract'.

"Their general operation was to get as much money as possible and when there was no more money to be got they would move on to the next."

Mr Lowe said the gang used false names to try to make it difficult for the victims to get in touch with them after they vanished, and the five never finished a job they started.

"They simply had no intention of completing their side of the contract," Mr Lowe said.

"Their business was geared to getting money. The whole operation was dishonest from start to finish, taking the maximum amount of money, doing the minimum work and then scarper."

Dixon, of Ash Lane, Down Hatherley; Harris, of The Ash Path, Upton St Leonards; Higgins, of Nelson Street, Gloucester; Docksey, of Bathurst Road, Gloucester; and Ireson, of Benhall Gardens, Gloucester Road, Cheltenham, all deny a charge of conspiracy to defraud between April 2005 and October 2007.

The trial, which is due to last more than three months, continues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Reimagined: Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
Cannes 2015Dheepan, film review
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine