A PENSIONER was tricked into handing over her life savings by cowboy builders who bodged an unnecessary roofing job.

The 79-year-old paid over almost £90,000 to the roofer, who she knew only as Simon Watts, in 2017. After he was told that building control had been informed, the brazen crook even tried to persuade her into handing over more money so he could refund her a larger sum.

Swindon Crown Court heard the culprits who scammed the Old Town woman out of thousands have never been found.

However, police followed the trail of cash to two men, Joel Wales and Marcus Wagner, into whose bank accounts the victim’s life savings were paid. The men admitted money laundering.

Judge Peter Crabtree said on Monday he accepted the pair had not been involved in the original fraud and were remorseful.

He told the men: “The underlying offence here was wholly despicable and mean and one which has had an awful impact on an elderly vulnerable lady.”

Prosecutor Chloe Griggs said the victim was approached by a number of men in 2017 who claimed to be from a company that had previously done work on her home.

“They said the render looked like it could do with a new coat,” she said. The men quoted £2,000, which was later raised to £3,000. She agreed to have the work done.

The woman was then contacted by a “Simon Watts”, who claimed to be the men’s boss. He said she needed a new roof and offered to replace the roof at the back of her property for £37,000. Again, she agreed to the work being done.

Ms Griggs said: “Whilst replacing the back of the roof he said the front half would also need replacing for a further £37,000.”

She paid £55,400 into the bank account of Blue Line Roofing, which was Wagner’s company, and £20,000 into Wales’ bank account. In total, she paid out £87,600 for the substandard works, £75,400 of which was laundered through the defendants’ accounts.

Once the works were complete, “Mr Watts” called back and tried to persuade the woman she owed more money for VAT. “She said she had spent all of her life savings by that stage and she would need to get a second mortgage,” Ms Griggs told the court.

The poor quality of the works became clear after a neighbour complained about a leak. When she telephoned the builder, he admitted that he had overcharged her but tried to get her to transfer thousands more so he could refund the larger sum.

A council-commissioned surveyor estimated the quality of the work to be worth £1,684. A qualified roofer would have charged around £9,000 to replace the roof properly.

The court heard the victim had since borrowed money to have the roof replaced. She felt so ashamed she had not even been able to tell her children what happened, she said in a victim personal statement.

Wales, 24, of Philips Road, Newark, and Wagner, 29, of Moorends, Doncaster, pleaded guilty to money laundering. Wales claimed in a basis of plea he’d been asked by “travellers” to launder £20,000 through his account and was paid £1,000 for handling the first tranche of £10,000 and £500 for the second. Wagner said he’d initially believed the money came from a friend of a friend who had had trouble with an ex-girlfriend and needed to move money around. He was paid £600.

Paul Lazarus, for Wagner, said his client had told the probation officer he would not have got involved had he known where the money came from. “The gravamen of his offending is that he didn’t seek to ask,” the lawyer said. Wagner was on a community order at the time of the crime.

Richard Sheldon, for Wales, said the man had struggled to find his way in life as a young man. “He fell into bad company and it’s all come to roost.”

Both men were remorseful and supported partners and children. Neither had been involved in the fraud and there had been significant delay in the case coming to court.

Judge Crabtree sentenced Wagner to 16 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years with 10 rehabilitation days and 180 hours of unpaid work. Wales received nine months suspended for two years with 15 rehabilitation days and 100 hours of unpaid work. They must each pay £2,500 in compensation.

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