Rogue builder jailed for ripping off Honiton customers

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

A rogue builder has been jailed after he ripped off 17 customers for £214,000 worth of jobs which he never finished. 

Lee Butler lied about being bankrupt and worked under a series of seven different company names while picking up jobs from internet websites. 

He left customers more than £214,000 out of pocket while fobbing them off with a string of excuses, including telling three of them that his grandfather was either dead or dying. 

He was already subject to a suspended sentence for a £47,000 tax fiddle when he carried out much of his fraudulent work for customers in Tiverton, Honiton and Exeter. 

He even forged a false reference from a doctor who was a previous customer which said he was reliable and hard working. When it was checked by trading standards officers, the client said Butler arrived late, knocked off early, and took long lunch and tea breaks. 

Butler ran his businesses from his home in Tiverton but gave many of his victims false details and an address which turned out to be a rented lock-up. 

His excuses included family deaths, funerals or illnesses, weather, and broken-down vans, and were described as a litany of lies at Exeter Crown Court. 

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Butler, aged 40, of Gale Way, Tiverton, admitted pursuing a fraudulent business and was jailed for two years and three months by Judge Timothy Rose. 

He told him: “You left work in different stages of disarray. The customers would almost certainly not have entered into contracts if they knew about your bankruptcy. You gave a hundred and one excuses, most of which were nonsense. 

“Your grandfather died several times, you submitted bogus references and created seven of eight company names. You were not a fraudster who was simply taking the money and running, it was a more complicated picture than that. 

“I cannot say you simply stole £200,000 by way of fraud. You were taking in work you quite simply should never have taken on and doing so while lying and failing to disclose your bankruptcy. 

“You came up with a litany of excuses and lied in various ways, some of which were demonstrably false. You knew what you were doing and knew the effect on your victims.” 

Mr Tom Bradnock, prosecuting, said Butler had already been warned about his business practices by trading standards officers before he committed this fraud between August 2018 and December 2020.  

He was bankrupt but failed to tell any of the 17 customers, most of whom hired him from the internet. He would visit their homes and appear charming and competent and gave one a reference from a previous client which turned out to be forged. 

He covered his tracks with false names and addresses and demanded up-front deposits for work and materials. He was paid £214,000 for jobs varying in value from less than £1,000 to £45,000, none of which were finished. 

He was made bankrupt in June 2018 and received an eight-month suspended sentence for tax fraud in September 2019 but carried on just as before. 

He even duped one customer after being charged with these frauds in September last year. 

Miss Mary McCarthy, defending, said Butler was trying to run a genuine building business but was overwhelmed by paperwork and lied to customers to try to buy time. 

She said he incurred genuine expenses which meant the amount he actually made from the fraudulent trading was £26,000 rather than £200,000. 

She said: “He was operating as a builder, albeit not a very good one. It is not the case of somebody who has gone out to fleece people without doing anything in return.” 

She said he suffers from serious mental health issues and has spent time in hospital after making at least one suicide attempt. 

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