A door-to-door fish salesman has been jailed for more than five years for ripping off vulnerable customers, one of whom was 105.
Craig Henderson, 51, of Fir Avenue, Durham, admitted a single charge of fraudulent trading which netted him well over £250,000 in three-and-a-half years.
One hundred and ten victims from across the UK gave statements to investigators about being mis-sold fish and feeling intimidated into buying at inflated prices, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Sabrina Goodchild, prosecuting, said Henderson predominantly targeted the elderly or otherwise vulnerable people by aggressively selling door-to-door.
Around two-thirds of victims were aged over 60, Ms Goodchild said, two were aged 95 and 105.
She said Henderson deliberately set out to defraud customers, selling cheap frozen fish as fresh at an average of three times the retail price.
Ms Goodchild added, he used vans with other, legitimate firms’ logos on the side so he could not be traced.
The older the victim the more he charged, the court heard.
Victims were not given receipts or a contact number to complain to, cheaper species were sold as expensive ones, and packaging was not labelled so consumers had no idea of a use by date.
Henderson or his staff would even enter victims’ homes and start loading their fridge with supplies before the customer had agreed a price.
Some of the fish was of such poor quality it had to be binned, with one buyer saying the produce was so off it made their freezer smell, despite it being frozen.
Victims later complained that they only agreed to buy products so Henderson would leave their property, and one said she would hide should he ever come to her door again.
A retired nurse said she felt embarrassed at handing over £150 for 14 pieces of fish.
Another was visited four times by Henderson and spent £698 on fish, the court heard.
After he was arrested, investigators traced sales on his bank account totalling £246,000, but this reportedly would have been much higher if the unknown amount of cash sales were included.
He had a criminal record for dishonest fish sales dating back to 2003, with six convictions spanning 62 offences, and had previously been jailed for similar offences.
Lewis Kerr, defending, said Henderson had run up drug debts due to his heroin and crack addictions.
Mr Kerr said Henderson admitted: “Not a day goes by that I don’t regret what I have done, it is just not acceptable.”
Judge Howard Crowson jailed him for five years and seven months and imposed a Criminal Behaviour Order, indefinitely banning Henderson from going door-to-door and conducting unsolicited sales.
After the hearing, Lord Michael Bichard, chair of National Trading Standards, said: “Threatening older victims – including at least one aged over 100 – and intimidating them in their own homes shows utter cowardice.
“Many victims were repeatedly targeted, giving the defendant money they could not afford to lose, just to make him go away.
“Once again our team in the North East – who have carried out a number of prosecutions against illegal fish sellers – have stopped a ruthless individual in his tracks and prevented untold further harm.
“I’m proud of everyone involved for their relentless efforts to identify and bring these criminals to justice.”
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