Ben Brown, 62, of Cox Lane in Epsom, who trades under the name Greenfingers Gardening, was sentenced at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday 20 October on eight counts of Fraud Act offences and four of money-laundering relating to sums of up to £665,000. The court heard that he had put more than £660,000 through his bank account that had not been disclosed to Inland Revenue.
Mr Brown had earlier pleaded guilty and will also face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing to recover money that he conned from his victims, who live in Sutton and across Surrey. His offences were carried out over a seven-year period from 2006 to 2013.
Mr Brown’s sentencing followed a joint prosecution between Surrey County Council and Sutton Trading Standards with Surrey County Council acting as lead prosecutor in a lengthy case that took three years to get to court. The investigation was also supported by the Tri-Region Scambusters Team, who gathered evidence and obtained witness statements during the investigative stage.
Mr Brown, whose business included paving and fencing, would charge exorbitant prices for poor work that was frequently neither required nor requested by his victims. His customers were often elderly and vulnerable people who were unable to look after their gardens themselves.
When they would query the price or the standard of Mr Brown’s work, they were met with intimidation and verbal abuse. Typically, he would charge thousands of pounds for work that should have cost hundreds at most.
He obtained business by advertising in local newspapers across Surrey and putting flyers through letterboxes using the trading names Greenfingers and Homecare Property Maintenance.
In one case, a woman in her 90s approached Mr Brown after seeing a newspaper advert because she needed help maintaining her garden. He started work at her home without giving her any notice of her cancellation rights and charged her £24,500. A surveyor later judged the value of the work to be only £400.
In another case, Mr Brown charged a man £17,000 for works carried out at his home, again after failing to give notice of cancellation rights. A surveyor valued the work at £200.
A third victim paid £7,000 for work carried out in his garden. Mr Brown returned on a number of occasions without prior arrangement and started work not requested by the customer, who felt too intimidated not to pay. He paid Brown £1,500 simply for tidying his garden.
Another of his victims, a pensioner living in Epsom, who has asked to remain anonymous, contacted Mr Brown in February 2012 to erect a new fence and gate in her garden after one of his flyers was put through her letterbox.
He gave her a verbal quote of £1,800 for the job, then turned up to commence work several days later without prior notice. After erecting a new fence and leaving it leaning at a 45-degree angle, Mr Brown then told the pensioner the bill was now £4,000, blaming the rising cost of materials. He suggested further gardening work in an intimidating manner that she felt unable to refuse, charging a further £1,600 to re-turf the garden, having led her to believe this extra work was included in the £4,000 payment.
Mr Brown then offered to lay a new patio and sent another man to do the job, charging a further £1,200, at which point she refused to pay and called the police as she feared for her safety.
The pensioner obtained a quote from another landscape gardener who told her the fencing should have cost £500 to replace.
The woman said:
“I want to thank Sutton Trading Standards and Surrey Trading Standards for their hard work in securing Ben Brown’s conviction. While I am pleased that justice has been done, I feel really aggrieved at how he took advantage of me and preyed on elderly and vulnerable people in their 80s and 90s.
“I employed him because I wanted to give a local tradesman some work rather than go to a big company. I chose him because his leaflet was beautifully printed and looked very professional to me.
“Ben Brown never gave me a quote in writing, nor was I given a seven-day cooling-off period. I can’t believe I was so trusting. As a result of this, I will never go with any other local businesses that are not endorsed by Sutton Council’s Safer Sutton Trader Scheme list or Checkatrade.”
Cllr Nick Emmerson, Lead Councillor of Trading Standards at Sutton Council, said:
“We congratulate Sutton’s and Surrey’s Trading Standards teams for their sterling work over a considerable period of time that has finally led to the imprisonment and fining of this rogue trader. Ben Brown will no longer be able to grossly overcharge for his work and intimidate people across the borough.
“Sutton residents should always look at the Safer Sutton Trader Scheme List on our website when considering employing a tradesperson. This list has been vetted by Trading Standards and offers a range of professional tradespeople.
“Residents should always get several quotes before agreeing to employ a tradesperson and remember that they should expect to receive a cancellation notice from the trader and have the opportunity to cancel a contract within 14 days if it is made at home.”
The Safer Sutton Trader Scheme List has been thoroughly vetted by Trading Standards and offers a range of bona fide tradespeople in the borough. It can be downloaded from the Sutton Council website at https://www.sutton.gov.uk/info/200548/business_regulation/1327/trading_standards