A rogue painter and decorator who lied to, deceived and conned a Sanderstead homeowner out of £121,901 over the course of 18 months has been jailed for four years and three months.
The hefty sentence was handed down to Stuart Ackerley, 55, of Park Lane, Netherne Village, at Croydon Crown Court on Wednesday (10) after he had changed his plea three days into his trial last month, admitting four of the nine charges he faced.
The court was told that the campaign of deceit and intimidation started in November 2013 when Ackerley, who traded as Northern Property Services and Northern Builders, visited the resident’s home for payment for work he had completed on another property owned by Mr Gavali. Ackerley convinced the homeowner that improvements to his home would see it increase in value.
Assured that Ackerley had 30 years’ building experience, and remembering that his invoice indicated he was a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen, the householder gave him the job of carrying out the improvements.
Ackerley’s first suggested tasks were the urgent replacement of the roof and repointing of a wall, the cost of both jobs and related scaffolding exceeding £10,000. The work to the roof had barely started before Ackerley was finding other jobs to do in the house. He said the chimney was crumbling and in such bad condition that it could collapse, he quoted £9,000 for the repairs.
Thinking Ackerley’s advice was honest and professional, the homeowner agreed to the demolition and rebuilding of the bedroom walls containing the “crumbling” chimney stack, handing over £20,000.
Over the course of the year from June 2014, Ackerley convinced his victim that a number of jobs were necessary, some because, so he claimed, it would be dangerous not to do them.
They included the enlargement of the patio and repairs to a brick-built shed in the garden; the continuation of works to the house that had not been completed, due, according to Ackerley, to more money being needed; the purchase of new radiators, doors, windows and associated materials; and even jobs that Ackerley started without seeking approval. Each new job was accompanied by a demand for cash, often in amounts of tens of thousands of pounds.
Richard Heller, prosecuting, said: “The property might have needed some work doing to it, but it did not need the extent of the work the defendant carried out. The householder was trapped in a home that had been turned into a building site with a builder who was finding one new job after another to start whilst barely finishing any of those he had started.”
In March 2015, Ackerley’s attitude toward his client changed from one of appeasement to one of intimidation. He claimed that the resident had cost him a job worth £42,000 by bad-mouthing him to his neighbours, but he had done no such thing.
The following month, Ackerley turned up at the house with his wife. She, too, accused the homeowner of costing her husband a lucrative contract. She told him that her husband would get angry, at which Ackerley told her: “He doesn’t know what I’m like.” Mr Heller told the jury that the implication of the remark was clear.
On another occasion, the Ackerleys again went to the house and forced their way in, at which point Ackerley said that failure to pay what he claimed was owed to him would result in the homeowner being “taken into the woods”.
Ackerley did no more work at the property, as the council’s trading standards team arranged for an independent survey of the property. The report found that the majority of works carried out on the property were unnecessary or had been done in such an incompetent manner that the cost of remedial work to put it right would be as much as £45,000. The standard of work was described as “absolutely abysmal” and “below the standard of a limited DIY-er”.
Analysis of Ackerley’s bank account revealed that between February 2014 and May 2015, he bought a car, went on multiple holidays and spent freely on eating out, items of jewellery and other non-essential items.
And during the execution of a search warrant at his house, it was discovered that he had a running machine, a home gym, a hot tub, large flatscreen televisions, and designer clothes and electronics, many of which would have been bought with the victim’s money.
Passing sentence, Her Honour Judge Smaller told Ackerley: “Your behaviour is nothing short of disgraceful. You turned the house into a dirty, dusty, cold building site. At no point, through either the trial or the sentencing, have you apologised.”
Andy Opie, the council’s director of safety, said: “This is a terrible case of a corrupt and heartless builder taking complete and repeated advantage of a vulnerable and trusting householder, creating months of unnecessary work for himself and doing damage to the house that cost thousands to put right.
“Our trading standards officers have done a great job in bringing this case to court, which has resulted in Ackerley being sent to prison, where he can cause no more misery to other unsuspecting residents.”