Gardening gang 'fleeced' Essex victims for £150k

Christopher Barnes
Image caption Christopher Barnes was the leader of the gang

A gang of men who "fleeced" two vulnerable people from Essex out of £150,000 for gardening work have been jailed.

The six men, trading as Chris Landscaping Limited, charged a woman from Leigh-on-Sea, now 90, £44,000 for minor gardening work.

They also collected cheques for more than £113,000 from a 74-year-old disabled man, police said.

The group were sentenced at Basildon Crown Court on Wednesday.

The men, four of whom are from Tilbury, posed as landscape gardeners to trick their victims into paying for work they had not completed or that was of a poor standard, Essex police said.

Christopher Barnes, 35, of Jay Gardens in Chislehurst, Kent, was the leader of the gang who would befriend his victims over a number of months, taking his two young children to visit them.

Short garden path

Barnes would then turn up unannounced and demand money for work he had not been asked to carry out, police said.

The group targeted their two victims over a five-year period, at one point charging the 90-year-old woman £15,000 for a short garden path.

They also charged the 74-year-old man thousands of pounds for staining his fence and cutting his hedge, the court was told.

Barnes used the money to lead a "luxurious lifestyle" police said, living in a house with stables, enjoying a fleet of four cars and frequently travelling on holiday to Florida.

Police launched an investigation after a neighbour of one of the gang's victims raised concerns over the amount of money paid to the men.

The men were found by tracking down cheques paid into their bank accounts.

Sentencing them Judge Owen Davis said they had "fleeced them and when one was sucked dry, they moved on to the next".

'Despicable' crime

Barnes was jailed for five years and nine months for deception and fraud.

Daniel Chuter, 48, of Feenan Highway Tilbury, was sentenced to four years in jail for deception and fraud.

Allen Logan, 51, of Thackeray Avenue, Tilbury, was jailed for four years and six months for fraud.

William Brazil, 48, of Sullivan Road, Tilbury, was jailed for nine months for deception.

Christopher Chuter, 56, of Jay Gardens, Chislehurst, Kent, was jailed for six weeks for money laundering, suspended for two years.

Danny Palmer, 32, of Stephenson Avenue, Tilbury, was jailed for four months for money laundering, suspended for two years.

Det Con Mike Buckingham, speaking after the sentencing, said the men had targeted their victims because they had very few friends and family and were vulnerable.

"The fact people have preyed on these people over a long period of time, persistently, is despicable," he said.

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