A Cambridge garden business owner who was criticised for targeting vulnerable residents has been jailed for six months after being found guilty of fraud and aggressive practice.
Cambridge Crown Court heard how Thomas Twinley, 38, of Grange Park Fen Road, Cambridge has misled one customer by pretending to be associated with the well-known Notcutts Limited firm and charged him £400 extra than quoted.
The Court heard from Cambridgeshire County Council Trading Standards how he had tried to aggressively pressurise a separate elderly couple into having work done to their drive which they never wanted or agreed to.
Recorder Guy Ayres, who sentenced Twinley today, Friday, said: "I am going to keep sentence as short as possibly can. But it doesn't seem to me right to deal with this other than by an immediate custodial sentence The message has to go out that this type of behaviour is not acceptable¦..You cannot read and write, but I believe that you have a great deal of nous and cunning. You were taking advantage of those people to make money that you were not entitled to do."
Twinley, was found guilty on 12 February of six counts of fraud and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations offences including, an aggressive practice, giving a misleading price, misleading association with Nottcuts, false address and not giving cancellation rights to consumers.
The Court heard how Twinley traded under the name ˜Notcutts Tree and Garden Services'.
In December 2013 a leaflet from his firm which used the same name of the well known garden business and same postcode but a different address was posted through the door of Paul Crosfield.
He contacted the firm believing them to be part of Notcutts Limited and agreed a price of £90 with Twinley although he never provided a written quotation, despite being asked for one.
Twinley also failed to tell the resident, as he is legally obliged to, that he could cancel the contract within a cooling off period.
Once the work was carried out Twinley then demanded the resident pay him £490 - a sum Mr Crosfield would never have agreed to in the first place. The court found he had given a misleading price.
Mr Crosfield realised he wasn't dealing with the Notcutts garden centre when Mr Twinley wouldn't accept a bank transfer or cheque sent to the Notcutts address on the flyer. Therefore the marketing of his business was misleading.
Notcutts Limited subsequently contacted Twinley and demand he changed the name of his business which he did to Green Thumb Tree Services.
In December 2014, an elderly Cambridge couple spoke to ˜Green Thumb Tree Services'. And agreed they could trim their trees.
No paperwork was provided, and there was no written quote and the couple were never given notice of their cancellation rights. This was despite Twinley being told by Trading standards previously on several occasions that he should.
Mr Twinley suggested the residents should have his drive resurfaced, for about £2,000 but they said they did not want the work done.
However, a few days later, Mr Twinley came back to the house and one of his associates started marking up the driveway.
Despite being repeatedly told by the homeowner he did not want the work done Twinley said his men would be back the following morning.
The resident was so concerned he called his son who was at the house the following morning and told Twinley not to carry out the work and they should provide a written quote.
But a few days later, the son answered his parents' home phone to a call from Twinley who said that Green Thumb had already removed three tons of stone. However the son knew this could not be true and once again told him his parents did not want the work carried out.
The Court found that Twinley used aggressive commercial practice by marking the driveway up; returning to the house as well as ringing again and falsely claiming work had started. This was despite being told the couple did not want the work done.
The Court sentenced Twinley to six months in prison for giving a misleading price to Mr Crosfield and for the aggressive practice towards the other elderly couple. Both sentences to run concurrently.
The court sentenced him to three months for two similar counts of not giving either complainants cooling off rights “ each to run concurrently.
Similar sentences of three months, to run concurrently, were given each to one count of giving a false address and another of using Notcutts name.
Recorder Ayres, said: "Trading Standards have tried to help you. They have sat down and spoken to you. They have tried to talk you through the right way of doing things. But you were either not listening, or you did not want to and chose not to take that advice.
The two victims in this case were in my view vulnerable. I don't consider it any coincidence they were older rather than younger. It is so much easier with an older person to try the routine of inflating the price because they haven't heard properly what that price is.
In respect of the driveway, though no one is suggesting that you were being physically intimidating, there is no doubt that he felt under pressure by you. He had to have his son intervene, but when the son went again, the pressure was put back on."
Frank Pasfield, Trading Standards Officer for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: "It is disappointing that despite coming to our attention before on similar matters Mr Twinley has continued to carry out his trading activities in a fraudulent manner. We welcome this sentence which sends a strong message to fraudsters who try to prey on vulnerable people. Trading Standards will pursue you and whenever appropriate bring you to justice. We would also like to take this opportunity to praise the witnesses and complainants who bravely came forward to give evidence and hopefully stop this from happening to others."