Father and son team planted dead birds in customers' homes
Rogue chimney sweeps Martin and Luke Price. Picture: Phil Harris/Mirrorpix
A father and son have been jailed after it was found they planted dead birds in the chimneys of homes they were meant to be sweeping.
Luke and Martin Price, aged 34 and 59, admitted conspiring to defraud vulnerable householders, including elderly couples and women living alone, out of at least £13,000 by pretending chimneys were blocked by nests and dead birds.
The men preyed on people who simply wanted their chimneys swept. When the victims weren’t looking, they ‘found’ carcasses of birds to trick them into paying for more expensive work. In one case they produced a bucketful of dead birds, claiming they had been recovered from the roof.
To add insult to injury, the men often didn’t even bother to sweep the chimneys.
They were sentenced to 14 months and eight months respectively on 20 September. However, Recorder Arwel Jones at Isleworth Crown Court, suspended the prison sentences for a year and a half. He called their behaviour “mean, nasty and unpleasant”.
Martin Price will also be forced to pay £5,000 in costs to Hammersmith & Fulham Council. They were exposed in a BBC Rogue Traders episode where secret filming showed Martin Price take a dead pigeon from a sack and hide it in a fireplace he was supposed to be sweeping.
The family conmen demanded huge sums for putting unnecessary cowls on chimney tops – including £5,790 from a man in his late 80s whose wife has Alzheimer’s.
Bird carcasses used to trick victims into paying for more expensive work
Richard Heller, prosecuting, said that the conmen had made a big dent in the couple’s savings, and their ability to fund future care.
Another victim, a woman living on her own, was sworn at and reduced to tears by Luke Price who presented her with a scribbled ‘invoice’ for £1,862. She eventually gave him £400 just to get out of her house after he began threatening her.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Trading Standards team led the four-year inquiry into the activities of the pair, who both live in Surrey, after a borough resident got in touch to complain about the men.
After a tip off, the BBC’s Rogue Traders programme subsequently launched a sting operation using an actress and a house filled with hidden cameras. Now, Luke Price is to be further pursued for compensation and they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud between September 2017 and April 2019.
Cllr Rebecca Harvey, H&F Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion and Community Safety, said she was “immensely proud” of the council’s Trading Standards team and the work they do to help keep residents safe.
“Residents have the right to expect that when they invite traders into their homes, they can trust them to do the work they promised. And to do that work to a decent standard, to the price agreed and not to be ripped off or become victims of fraudulent greedy selfish behaviour of con artists.”
It is not always easy to find a good tradesperson who is available to do the work you need done at the time you need it doing. Guidance on how to find reliable traders can be found here on the London Trading Standards website.
For more details on how to find approved traders and spotting the signs of a scam, please visit the London Trading Standards website for hints and tips.
In addition to their suspended prison terms, Luke Price was ordered to do 150 hours’ unpaid work, and 30 days of rehabilitation, and was barred from being a company director for seven years.
His father must undertake 100 hours of community service on top of a 30-day rehabilitation order. Both men have been on electronically tagged curfews for more than seven months.
Sascha Meding, vice-chair of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, who assisted with the Rogue Traders programme, said the crooks’ actions amounted to extortion. The fraudsters demanded up to £325 for each cowl, despite them really costing £20 apiece.
When confronted on camera by Rogue Traders presenter Matt Allwright, Luke Price claimed he was an animal lover and had merely fitted the chimney cowls to protect wildlife. However, in a subsequent interview he confessed to the scam and claimed he had “given in to temptation when work was slack”.
The pair operated under the names of several different companies, all with Luke Price as director and based in Ashford, Surrey, including:
Complete Chimney Care
Premier Chimney Care Ltd
Complete Roof Care Ltd
London Chimney Company.
All the companies have now been dissolved.
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October 3, 2022