Crooked builders convicted

Three crooked 'builders' who ripped off 50 homeowners to the tune of £1 million have been convicted of fraud.

Nicholas Harris, 45, Mark Dixon, 43, and Matthew Higgins, 33, claimed to specialise in extensions, took customers deposits but did not complete a single job.

The men created two firms based in Gloucester, Construction Management Development Ltd and CMD Construction Services Ltd, with offices near the city centre and at Brookthorpe.

Operation DRAMWhen victims challenged them over the lack of progress, they were often threatened with legal action for breach of contract. Further money was demanded for "completion" of the works.

They deceived people in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, West Midlands, Bristol, Wiltshire (Swindon), Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, and Kent.

Harris, who headed the operation, was able to hire five cars with the proceeds, including two Mercedes, a Range Rover, a Toyota Landcruiser and a BMW 745i.

Operation DRAMA jury at Bristol Crown Court convicted Harris, of Ash Path, Upton St Leonards, Gloucester, Dixon, of Tuffley Avenue, and Higgins, of Nelson Street, of conspiracy to defraud between April 2005 and October 2007. The trial lasted for three months.

Gloucestershire Police’s Economic Crime Unit carried out a three-year investigation into the gang after a pattern began to emerge. The county’s Trading Standards department provided initial support.

One victim from Newent, in the Forest of Dean, paid over £11,000 to the gang. Another couple from Bishopsworth, Bristol gave them nearly £12,000. A couple from Cirencester, Gloucestershire were persuaded to hand over in excess of £20,000 for incomplete work.

DCI David Sellwood, of Gloucestershire Police, whose team carried out the investigation codenamed Operation DRAM, said:

“The guilty verdicts represent justice for all those hardworking homeowners betrayed by Harris and his co-conspirators.

“Harris was able to hire five luxury vehicles with the profits of this business and run a well-furnished office. It’s clear that these criminals enjoyed the money and felt no guilt about the misery they caused. The victims have been through a nightmare.

“After such a detailed investigation it was very important that we secured convictions. It took a lot of work to put this case together and establish a pattern of criminality. 

“Over 700 statements were taken and 4,300 exhibits recorded. The defendants made it as difficult as they possibly could for the police. Detectives worked tirelessly and with great commitment and it is the operational officers who deserve the credit for this result.

"As so many homeowners came forward with similar complaints, we were able to put together a picture of wide-ranging and linked offending. With some fifty people deceived, the modus operandi was clear.

“Today’s verdicts send out a clear message to criminals across the country – moving your operation around will not hide what you are doing and we will piece together the puzzle.

“Harris and his colleagues will also face a Proceeds of Crime hearing. We will reclaim any cash and assets still available.”

Martin Bruton, of Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards said:

"Gloucestershire County Council Trading Standards were alerted by a series of complaints from consumers about building work delays. A Trading Standards investigation in 2006 resulted in Mark Dixon being made the subject of an order by Bristol's Mercantile Court in Bristol barring him from specified unfair practices.

"When complaints continued to be received from consumers in several counties, the police were consulted which resulted in this investigation." 

Two other men, 35 year old Leighton Docksey, of Bathurst Road, Gloucester and Lee Ireson, 30, of Gloucester Road, Cheltenham, were both found not guilty of the charge.