Redcar tradesman avoids jail after 'ripping off' householders

James McDonagh, who traded as JMC Landscapes and JMC Improvements Limited, appeared at Teesside Crown Court. Credit: PA

A tradesman who conned householders after responding to ads online from people wanting improvement works carried out has been spared an immediate jail sentence.

James McDonagh, 26, of Rockpool Court, Redcar, admitted five counts of knowingly or recklessly engaging in commercial practice and three charges of dishonestly making false representations.

The offences were committed between March 3 and October 6 last year.

McDonagh traded as JMC Landscapes and JMC Improvements Limited and left half-a-dozen unhappy residents living in Guisborough, Loftus, Middlesbrough, Ormesby and Redcar in his wake after failing to provide services agreed with them, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

In some instances he took deposit payments for work that was not completed at all, or satisfactorily, and also failed to provide relevant documentation to customers.

He was also said to have not dealt properly with complaints, did not rectify poor workmanship as promised, failed to honour guarantees and disappeared when complainants tried to contact him.

Teesside Crown Court was told how in one incident, a woman living in Westminster Close, Middlesbrough, initially paid £20 for a roof tile to be replaced, but having inspected the roof McDonagh then recommended a ‘dry verge’ system be installed to stop wind getting under the tiles at a cost of £600 which was paid in cash.

Two weeks later the complainant noted that strips that had been installed had blown off the roof and made extensive efforts to contact McDonagh, who did not respond to a request for further remedial work to be carried out.

A 77-year-old man living in Wheatlands Close, Guisborough, agreed with McDonagh for artificial grass to be laid at his property at a cost of just over a thousand pounds.

A deposit for £550 for materials was paid and while the work was undertaken with the remaining balance also paid, it was later noticed that the grass had not been fitted well and the turf poorly cut.

McDonagh, who offered a ten year guarantee for the work, at first said he would attend again to sort the problem out, but he didn’t, with the defendant again failing to respond to further communications.

McDonagh, who claimed to be a born again Christian when speaking with one householder, agreed a price of £1,850 with a woman living in Cromwell Avenue, Loftus for artificial grass in her back garden.

He received a thousand pounds as a deposit for the work and had some materials delivered to the address.

McDonagh never actually started the work, at first stating his vehicle had been in an accident and would have to cancel, and although he did attend again to leave some tools he never came back again with the defendant not responding to calls from the householder.

In another incident, McDonagh said he’d do some landscaping and fencing work for an elderly disabled couple living in Saxonfield, Middlesbrough, at an agreed cost of £500 with half of the money being transferred to him for the materials.

No paperwork or a contract was provided.

McDonagh later called on the day the work was due to be undertaken saying his van was off the road because of an accident and while a rearranged date was given, no-one attended and there was no further contact from the defendant.

A 65-year-old woman living with her elderly, terminally ill mother at a retirement property in Adshead Road, Dormanstown, near Redcar was contacted by McDonagh after seeking someone to level off and extend a patio.

Five hundred pounds was originally quoted for the work and £450 later agreed with £250 to be paid in advance and the rest on completion.

The deposit was sent to McDonagh by bank transfer, but just over a week later he called to say his van had been written off in an accident, but he would have a new van by Friday.

The complainant made subsequent unsuccessful attempts to contact McDonagh before alerting the authorities.

Meanwhile, an Ormesby resident paid a £300 deposit in cash for landscaping work, half of the cost agreed, but McDonagh never turned up to do the work, or returned the money.

Victim annoyed and 'ripped off'

The sentencing hearing heard brief personal accounts from the victims of McDonagh’s offending, who described being annoyed and “ripped off”, and unable to trust other traders.

One man said he had used money from his Army pension, while others said they felt let-down and disappointed.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, which brought the prosecution against McDonagh following an investigation, had sent him a letter of advice in July last year, including guidance as to the law regarding the supply of services.

But following this McDonagh went on to re-offend, committing three further offences, and he was also said at no point to have engaged with the subsequent investigation.

John Nixon, mitigating, said McDonagh was of previous good character, had never been arrested in his life and was well educated.

Mr Nixon said McDonagh, who is currently employed by British Steel, decided to set up a business early last year after his girlfriend became pregnant, but was “naive and utterly unaware” of the relevant consumer regulations and the need to register the business.

After setting out with “good intentions”, he became overwhelmed with work and unable to cope.

Mr Nixon said: “He was stealing from Peter to pay Paul in order to trade his way through a crisis.”

He said McDonagh was “full of remorse”, adding: “He has not done work well and accepts that.

“This is a young man who will not trouble the courts again.”

Not a "rogue trader"

Judge Tony Kelbrick said he did not regard McDonagh as a “rogue trader” who went out to seek vulnerable victims with the intention of defrauding them and if he had he would have been locked up immediately.

McDonagh was described as not going door to door and instead replied to ads householders had posted online looking for tradespeople to complete work.

The judge gave the defendant credit for his guilty pleas which reduced his sentence to ten months, which was suspended for a year.

He was ordered to pay £2,752 total compensation to the victims, along with £3,000 court costs, which will be paid at the rate of £100 a month.

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