Lincolnshire Trading Standards has secured a prosecution against a dodgy handyman who defrauded at least 23 victims across the East Midlands.
William Bower, 44, of Tolney Lane, Newark on Trent, has been sentenced to six years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of fraud at Lincoln Crown Court.
Mr Bower has a history dating back over 15 years of fraudulent activity resulting in three previous suspended sentences for fraud offences from 2007, 2009 and 2017.
Since then, William Bower continued to operate across Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, targeting elderly and vulnerable people who were looking for landscaping, gardening or property works. He was overcharging; taking large – and sometimes several – deposits; encouraging them to agree to more, unnecessary work; and then actually doing little to nothing. The work he did complete was often substandard.
One of Mr Bower’s victims said their run-in with him has caused them to lose all confidence in themselves. In a statement they said: “My independence has been taken away from me. [Mr Bower] has broken his word on all of his promises. How could he be so callous and uncaring about two vulnerable people?”
Most of Mr Bower’s victims had sought tradespeople to carry out work at their properties through online trader marketplaces where users submit details of the job they need doing and take quotes from local businesses to carry out that work. Using a wide variety of business names and versions of his own name, Bower managed to avoid negative reviews that might have come from customers he had swindled previously.
Lincolnshire Trading Standards Officer, Alan Griffin, explains: “When he was being interviewed under caution in September 2020, William ‘Billy’ Bower couldn’t even remember all of the business names he’d traded under, he had used that many.
“The original case against Mr Bower was a strong one, consisting of 13 charges all under the Fraud Act 2006. However, his day in court was put back numerous times due to claimed medical episodes preventing him from attending court, including heart attacks and a stroke.
“No medical evidence was provided to justify the delays. On one occasion, when it was claimed Mr Bower was in a vegetative state in hospital and so could not attend court, footage from the day before shows him walking up to the house of one of his previous victims.
“William Bower finally appeared before a judge in November 2022 to plead guilty to the charges against him. He was remanded in custody to await his sentencing.”
Incredibly, whilst in custody at HMP Lincoln, Mr Bower maintained contact with one Leicestershire victim, calling him persistently to continue his harassment and intimidation.
Alan Griffin continues: “During the delay, Trading Standards services across the three counties identified ten further victims and these were taken into account on his sentencing. Two further fraud related matters were transferred from Nottingham Magistrates court, so that his criminality was dealt with together.
“This has been a long and drawn-out case, and we’re indebted to our Trading Standards and police colleagues in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire for their support in helping put William Bower behind bars. I’d also like to commend Bower’s victims for coming forward, and cooperating with the authorities in this case; it is your evidence that has brought him to justice.
“Although Mr Bower has repaid some of the money he’s swindled – mostly in the last few months – he still owes over £100,000 to his latest victims. It’s clear that his attempts at refunds were a last-ditch attempt to save his own skin after legal proceedings were started against him.”
At Lincoln Crown Court on 27 February 2023, William Bower was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison. Further investigations have now begun for future hearings to discuss compensation for his victims.
The court also ordered that, upon his release from prison, Mr Bower must not use trader marketplace websites to offer landscaping or property work; must not enter any property in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire to carry out or advertise for landscaping or property work; must not take any money upfront for work; and must provide all his customers with a contract including his most up to date contact details and address.
Another of Mr Bower’s elderly victims said in a statement: “I have received so many lies and excuses that I could fill a book with them. I should have contacted Trading Standards sooner, but I was ashamed to admit that I had been conned so easily.”
Vicky Salmon, anti-fraud community safety co-ordinator at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “This is a fantastic result for Trading Standards and takes a rogue trader off the streets. It’s also a cautionary tale for residents when looking for tradespeople for work on their homes, especially when using online trade checker websites.
“If you find a business, check if they’re a member of ‘TrustMark’ – the government’s trader scheme, ‘Buy With Confidence,’ or a similar scheme or trade association that carries out checks.
“Make sure you receive documents relating to your work and know your rights to cancel. If something does go wrong, never be too afraid or embarrassed to report it to Trading Standards as soon as possible.
“You can find further advice on finding a trader you can trust, or report a rogue trader, on the Citizens Advice website at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer.”