A JAIL term handed to the director of a home improvement company who preyed on vulnerable consumers and made a series of false claims has been welcomed by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Public Protection, Cllr Leanne Jones.
Richard John Evans, of Brook Street, Port Talbot, a director of Crystal Style Home Improvements Ltd, was sentenced to 34 months in prison at Swansea Crown Court last week following a three-year investigation by the council’s Trading Standards Department.
As well as the 34-month jail term given to Richard John Evans, David Gater, who was found to have operated as “a lieutenant” to Mr Evans, was sentenced to 21 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work. Stephen Garvey was given 24 months in prison, suspended for 24 months, with a 10-week curfew between the hours of 8 pm and 7 am. In addition, Proceeds of Crime proceedings are ongoing in respect of Mr Garvey.
Both Crystal Style Home Improvements Ltd, and SDG Home Improvements, have now been dissolved.
Councillor Jones said:
“We welcome the sentences delivered and are pleased the court recognised the financial loss and mental harm caused to the victims. Trading Standards takes a hard line on investigating businesses that flout the law and target the vulnerable in our area.
“The service is currently promoting the National Trading Standards run trader approval scheme Buy With Confidence which legitimate and responsible traders in Neath Port Talbot are encouraged to join. They can make enquiries with the department to join up and local consumers should check the Buy with Confidence website for approved traders”.
Crystal Style Home Improvements Ltd, trading from 3, Upper Bank Chambers, Briton Ferry, Neath, first came to the attention of Trading Standards officers in May 2018, after being found to falsely claim they were registered with Certass, the trade association of the glazing industry. The officers initially met with the company to advise on the printed and verbal (telesales) claims they were making as part of their sales pitch, following up the advice in writing.
By October 2018, Trading Standards officers were receiving complaints about Crystal Style Home Improvements from across south Wales, the complaints including misleading sales practices, high-pressure sales tactics and refusals to issue refunds when consumers cancelled within the cooling-off period.
The court heard aggressive sales tactics were used, which included salesmen sometimes staying at customers’ homes for up to five hours with artificially high prices quoted by salespeople in order to offer what appeared to be large reductions. Where work was actually carried out, it was of a poor and substandard quality.
Crystal Style moved to a call centre at the Water Street Business Centre in Port Talbot. Richard John Evans was now working with David Gater – employed as a sales manager.
The investigation by Neath Port Talbot Council Trading Standards officers led to warrants being executed at various addresses. Documents gathered linked Crystal Style with SDG Home Improvements, based in Station Road, Port Talbot.
It became clear Richard John Evans was trying to dissolve Crystal Style and carry on trading as an “employee” of S Garvey & Co Limited, which traded as SDG Home Improvements. SDG Home Improvements was based in Port Talbot and run by Stephen Garvey.
Although SDG Home Improvements did not operate a call centre, and its customer base was more local than Crystal Style’s, the sales tactics remained the same. Monies in excess of £75,000 were paid out by customers of both Crystal Style Home Improvements and SDG Home Improvements.
Mr Evans and Mr Gater pleaded guilty to offences related to Crystal Style Home Improvements during December 2019. Both Richard John Evans and Stephen Garvey later pleaded guilty to offences related to SDG Home Improvements during October 2020.
All three defendants appeared before Swansea Crown Court for sentence, on March 5th, 2021.
The sentencing Judge, Recorder Malcolm Gibney, said all three had defrauded the public, and that Richard John Evans “told lies” to vulnerable people to make them part with their money. He concluded the “target customer” was elderly and vulnerable.
If you wish to report any such incidents please contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223113 or 0808 2231144 if you wish to speak to an advisor in Welsh.