Jail for rogue North Devon plumber

Serious safety concerns

Posted on: 3 August 2015

A 54 year old North Devon plumbing and heating engineer has been sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and consumer protection charges.

Gary Henry, of Anstey Way, Instow, stood trail at Exeter Crown Court on three charges of Fraud and three charges of contravening Professional Diligence under Consumer Protection legislation.

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Team launched an investigation into Mr Henry, who had been a plumber for 30 years alongside his job as a professional firefighter, following a number of complaints about his work.

The court heard how, trading under the names of Gary Henry Ltd. And Barnstaple Plumbing and Heating, Mr Henry overcharged customers, invoiced customers for work that had not been done and falsely claimed in advertisements and on documentation that he was registered with OFTEC, the main trade association of technicians working with oil fired heating and cooking systems.

They found that the amount he charged for labour was vastly inflated, with hugely expensive hourly rates and the number of hours he charged for were excessive in relation to the hours of work actually carried out.

Two elderly customers, both recovering from illnesses, were over-charged thousands of pound for appliances, materials and labour. Mr Henry invoiced them £3,860 for a boiler he bought for £1,699 and a £870 for a flue pipe costing £87. The couple were also charged for work that was not done.

The quality of some of his work was also so poor that experts expressed serious safety concerns.

One elderly customer was charged over £25,000 for the replacement of an oil fired system, which, when inspected by an expert, was found to have numerous faults including insufficient air intake for proper combustion, which left a risk of poisoning. The system was also installed directly touching wooden kitchen units, posing a fire risk.

Other installations carried out by Mr Henry were found to have unsafe electrical wiring, an oil supply line unsafely installed and in once case the cavity wall had not been properly sealed where a flue passed through it, posing a fire risk.

Expert witnesses stated that Mr Henry’s invoices and work were exorbitant and excessive, and the level of over-pricing for parts and labour were so high in fact that the court found him guilty of fraud in relation to three out of four of the complainant’s cases.

Sentencing Mr Henry, Judge Phillip Wassall said his case was one of “genuine rogue trading” and his imprisonment should send a message that the courts take such issues seriously. He also said that when Mr Henry gave his evidence his “arrogance was breath taking” and that he had showed no remorse.

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said:

“We will not tolerate such dishonest trading activity in Devon, and I hope the sentence imposed on Mr Henry highlights how we strive to protect the people of Devon, but more importantly will encourage those who suspect they have been conned to come forward.

“The quality of his work is so poor that we are recommending anyone who thinks they have had an oil fired appliance installed by Mr Henry, should not only check whether their local District Council Building Control has been notified of the installation, but also get the appliance checked by a properly qualified and registered oil fired appliance technician to ensure that it is correctly installed and safe to use.

“Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service will continue to do all they can to protect our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, and safeguard the economic interests legitimate local businesses from such damaging unfair trading practices by taking necessary enforcement action.”

Councillor David Hall, Deputy Leader of Somerset Council and Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards, said:

“I’m pleased that Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Team have been able to bring this case to court, which is partly down to the readiness of several elderly customers to give evidence.  The fact that it was a fireman who introduced the fire risks to their homes makes his offences all the more despicable.

“This sentence is a reminder to us all – although its summer now, people will soon be thinking about servicing their heating systems. These cases are thankfully fairly rare, but to avoid dishonest plumbers, I recommend using our Buy With Confidence scheme to find someone who has been vetted and approved by our trading standards team.”

Mr Henry pleaded guilty to two Consumer Protection matters relating to falsely advertising trade association membership.

The two year sentence related to the Fraud charges, he was also sentenced to one year in prison for the Consumer Protection charges, to run concurrently.

He was acquitted of two further Fraud Act offences and two further Consumer Protection charges.

Apart from the trade association issues, Mr Henry denied all the charges.

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards approved businesses, including, plumbers, builders and electricians can be found on the ‘Buy With Confidence’ scheme website.

The scheme promotes the highest standards of trading across the two counties, for the benefit of both consumers and businesses. Businesses who become members of the scheme undertake to operate their company in a legal, honest and fair way. They will also offer a customer-friendly service and respond to complaints in a constructive manner.

Anyone with concerns, or who would like advice about their rights, should telephone The Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0345 0404 506 or visit their website.

Need to report illegal trading activity? Call Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0845 4040 506. You can also get advice on a range of consumer issues by visiting their website or logging on to the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service website.

Businesses can also find advice from Devon and Somerset Trading Standards website or call 01392 381381.

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