Ten victims of a rogue builder who fleeced them out of a fortune by taking money for construction work he never carried out, sat in the public gallery of a Crown Court and watched as a judge jailed the fraudster whom he described as ‘extremely selfish’.
Graham Thorne left a string of householders out of pocket and some of them estimated he had conned his victims out of almost half a million pounds.
One woman who fell foul of his scam sarcastically blew him a kiss as he was led from the dock to start a 22-month prison sentence.
Judge Francis Sheridan heard that the 48-year-old continued giving estimates and taking money off unsuspecting clients, despite his company being put into liquidation.
Thorne’s defence barrister tried to blame the illness of his father for the criminal activity but Judge Sheridan dismissed the claim saying: “Your father became unwell, I’m afraid that happens. That is no excuse whatsoever to carry on when you simply should have returned the money and said ‘it’s all beyond me’.”
Gareth James continued to try to protect his client saying that he had been “robbing Peter to pay Paul” but the Judge interrupted and retorted: “ “Well, who is Paul then?” adding that he found the mitigation ‘totally unimpressive’.
Earlier the judge, sitting at Aylesbury Crown Court, was told by prosecutor Alex Greenwood that Thorne had been a director of the Lavelle Building Co, a limited company which went into liquidation. However, the conman went on taking almost £100,000 from vulnerable prospective clients.
Mr Greenwood cited the example of pensioner Roy Tuthill, who needed refurbishment work carried out on a conservatory at his home in Aylesbury. The prosecutor said that Mr Tuthill paid £37,800 to Thorne in December 2014 with the understanding that the work would be finished by Easter. However, when building work had not even started in February, he cancelled and demanded a refund.
Three-and-a-half years on, Mr Tuthill, aged 73 years, still has not had a penny returned to him, the court heard.
Mr Greenwood explained: “Mr Tuthill, in October 2014, wanted internal refurbishment work in his conservatory in Buckinghamshire. In November, he received a quote from the defendant’s company and on December 11, 2014 received an invoice for £37,800. At that time the defendant said the price would be increasing as suppliers would be increasing their prices.
“Mr Tuthill transferred funds and thought work would be starting in January and would be finished by Easter.
“In February, Mr Tuthill asked for a signed receipt and planning permission documents from the council. Mr Thorne confirmed that he would provide both. He wanted to cancel due to the delay, so he asked for money to be returned and Mr Thorne agreed, but no money was returned.”
Another family was a victim of Thorne’s scam after a Mrs Helen Bhara and her husband had saved up for years to get an extension built and Lavelle Building Company was recommended to them by a friend.
“They met with the defendant and he quoted £65,000. They raised concerns as planning permission had not been obtained at that time and he said the money would be fully refunded if work was not done,” said Mr Greenwood.
“They paid him a deposit of £28,000 in October 2014 and a large hole was dug in the driveway and then left. Ten days after the deposit was paid, the family informed him they did not want to go ahead and in February they chased him up for their money to be returned but it has still not been refunded.”
Mr James, defending, said: “This was not an exercise that was fraudulent from the outset, it is rather a man who found himself out of his depth, unable to cope and robbed Peter to pay Paul.”
At this point, Judge Sheridan interrupted Mr James and asked: “Well, who is Paul then?”
Mr James explained: “There are payments coming into accounts from other parties who have had building services, who are content with those services.
“It is very much the case that once one or two things went wrong, things started to snowball. In 2014, Mr Thorne found himself losing the support and assistance of his father due to his father’s illness.
“At the same time that his father was ill and the business was struggling, personal circumstances meant Mr Thorne was taking quite a lot of time away from the business.
“He has two children, now five and six years old and that was occupying a great deal of his time and also his wife’s, who is a lady who fulfils a very valuable role in the community.
“It is against that background that Mr Thorne became dishonest in some of the representations he was making to customers.
“At the same time he simply couldn’t see the wood for the trees and perhaps to a certain degree, carried on the business for longer than he should have done.”
Last Friday afternoon 10 of Thorne’s victims went to Aylesbury Crown Court to see him sentenced.
One of the victims blew him a sarcastic kiss as she walked past him into the public gallery, to which he just shook his head and smirked.
Judge Sheridan jailed Thorne, of Marsh Lane, Aylesbury, for 22 months for one count of knowingly participating in a fraudulent business, one count of using a forged instrument and a final count of fraud.
He said to Thorne: “The mitigation which I find totally unimpressive is that you robbed Peter to pay Paul. The losers live in hope that they may get some money back.
“Your father became unwell, I’m afraid that happens. That is no excuse whatsoever to carry on when you simply should have returned the money and said ‘It’s all beyond me’.
“It is horrendous for them and exceedingly selfish of you. In mitigation as I say, it’s easy to produce references when you have done the work and you have done it to a high standard.
“I know you and your wife have adopted two children, it is a publicly commendable act that you did.
“It is said you couldn’t see the wood for the trees but I think you knew exactly what you were doing.”
After the sentencing, one of Thorne’s victims was visibly upset by the outcome. The victim, David Guerra, said: “The sentence is rubbish, he should have got a lot more. He got away lightly.
“Trading standards haven’t done their job. You can go on to his website and it is still available to make inquiries. I was robbed of £16,000 and trading standards twiddled their thumbs and did not do anything.
“Graham Thorne has been investigated for around four years by trading standards. He has been ripping people off for years; his company is called Lavelle Building.
“He would start work at people’s houses and then ask for money and literally disappear, leaving people exposed, broke and vulnerable. He would literally bleed people dry and disappear.
“He carried out work at my house and ran off with £16,000, leaving no lighting, no heating and me with no money. He did not contact me and disappeared.”
Chris Gill, a 75-year-old man from Aylesbury, said that Thorne had taken £35,000 from him after promising to build an extension which was never carried out.
He said: “I accept the sentence, he pleaded guilty too, I just think let the courts do their work. I’ve been coming every day of the trial, writing notes.
“I would say it’s actually probably about half a million that he’s taken from people. When I first started getting involved I emailed at least 35 people who had been affected and went around knocking on people’s doors.
“There are many more victims of this, he even scammed his own uncle.
“What happened; was he maintaining his lifestyle while his income went down?”
Thorne is to face separate proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Have you been affected by Graham Thorne’s crimes?
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