A conned customer turned Facebook detective to snare a rogue builder who took thousands from people for jobs he never finished.
Michelle Sawyer decided she would carry out her own investigation after initially employing Oliver Hooper-Ross when she spotted a social media ad offering his services.
The Chatham resident had contacted him about working on a new garden patio and pergola, and he promptly arrived and took £1,800 for building materials.
But he only broke up an area of old concrete - leaving the job to never return, despite her making numerous calls.
The 20-year-old repeatedly palmed her off with excuses until she decided she would see if anyone else had been scammed.
After setting up a dedicated Facebook page, she says she was contacted by several people who said they had also handed over cash but had not had promised work carried out.
Hooper-Ross would tell his victims that materials hadn’t been delivered, but when they called up the supply companies themselves, they discovered orders had never been placed.
She and two others went to the police and Hooper-Ross was charged with three counts of fraud by false representation.
He admitted the offences and appeared at Medway Magistrates’ Court on Monday to be sentenced.
Speaking afterwards, Michelle said: “On first impression, he was well-spoken and articulate and you could tell he was young.
“He explained how he’d started his own business, how he was doing, and how he’d got his mortgage down - I was really impressed.
“But he left my garden in a worse state than it was to begin with and I never saw him again.”
“He just kept giving stupid excuses...”
On people requesting to join her Facebook page, she said: “Oh my god - my phone did not stop.”
She says although only three cases went to court, there are many more people who told her they’d also been affected.
Fellow victim Temi, who lives in Walderslade and asked us not to use his surname, hired Hooper-Ross for an extension to create a home office.
The IT consultant paid a £6,000 deposit after being shown papers the builder said proved he was insured.
“He just kept giving stupid excuses,” said Temi. “He came for an hour with a friend but said the materials still hadn’t come so he was just playing around”.
Tracey Crane told how the builder never showed his face again after she gave him an £800 deposit.
The 51-year-old paid him to replace her disabled daughter’s front door in Luton after an intruder had broken it.
But after weeks of sending him messages about their money and incomplete work, Hooper-Ross blocked them.
“He’s a scammer and dodgy,” said Tracey. Meanwhile, her daughter is still without a door and neither can afford to have someone else fit one.
During sentencing, prosecutor Sidumiso Moyo told District Judge William Nelson, how none of the victims had had work completed or cash returned.
"I have had tears in my eyes at times when I realised the reality of not getting the work done...”
The court heard Hooper-Ross scammed the trio between May and July last year and was paid in total £8,650.
When interviewed by police, he told officers he would repay the cash, but never did.
Welfare officer Ms Sawyer, who appeared in court to read her victim impact statement, said: “It was cruel of him to take my money and money from other vulnerable people.
“I have had tears in my eyes at times when I realised the reality of not getting the work done, and he knows this.
“It’s also affected my mental well-being becoming a victim. I started up a Facebook page myself and multiple victims messaged and they were vulnerable and disabled people he had taken their money too.”
Judge Nelson also heard Ms Sawyer now suffers from hypertension and heart failure and felt the problems had contributed to her ill health.
In the dock, Hooper-Ross - who gave a care-of address as Palmerston Road, Chatham – said he now had another job and was earning £1,400 a month, but was living in a garage.
He said he had not meant to scam anyone, but took on too much work at once and couldn’t do the jobs, and that he was sorry.
Judge Nelson said the builder, who had never been in trouble with the law before, had shown an “arrogance of youth” taking on work he was clearly not able to complete.
He added: “One victim was too scared to instruct anyone else to carry out the work and you have caused a detrimental effect on both their financial and emotional states.
“You would take from one customer and then go to another, taking work you simply couldn’t complete.”
Judge Nelson decided to jail Hooper-Ross for 46 weeks but suspended the term for 18 months – ordering him to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and attend 20 rehabilitation sessions.
He was also ordered to pay back the £8,650 he owed all three victims at a rate of £150 a month.
Ms Sawyer concluded: “I think he was young and overly confident and a bit cocky. He loved the idea he was owning his own business but he really didn’t have a clue what he was doing.
“He probably had good intentions at the start.”