‘It was a horrible experience’: Conservatories boss banned for taking deposits for work he never did
PUBLISHED: 17:56 21 August 2020 | UPDATED: 18:23 21 August 2020
A conservatories boss has been banned from running companies after he took deposits for work which was never done and failed to follow building rules.
Jonathan Knights, who ran Conservatories Etc in Diss and Wymondham, cost families £50,000 through his negligence, Norwich Crown Court heard on Friday.
He had previously admitted failing get building regulation approval for warm-roof conservatories between October 2016 and January 2019, despite repeatedly telling customers he would.
Around 50 customers were affected, Norfolk County Council Trading Standards said, costing home owners around £35,000 to get the errors fixed.
Knights, 58, also pleaded guilty to trading from December 2018 while his company was insolvent.
At least six customers paid deposits for conservatories which were never delivered, losing £17,000 in total.
Robert Bradford, 68, from Long Stratton, ordered a conservatory from the company on March 7, 2019, paying a deposit of £2,412. Unknown to him, Conservatories Etc had appointed administrators the day before.
He said he did not find out until seeing an article in this newspaper on March 23 about the company’s problems.
“You can imagine my horror when I read the article,” he said. “I obviously went to their premises in Wymondham only to find it all locked and the signage removed.
“My wife was already being treated for anxiety caused by an accident at work and the stress of this situation certainly took its toll on her.
“We now view our dealings with any new company or tradesperson with great suspicion.”
Judge Andrew Shaw sentenced Knights, of Allison Bank, Norwich, to 250 hours of unpaid work and banned him from being a director of a company for 10 years.
He told Knights that customers had trusted him with their “hard earned” money to improve their homes, but had been let down by his negligence.
Judge Shaw said Knights had caused anguish and grief and described the offence of taking deposits while he was trading insolvent as the “most shameful” business practice.
Michael Clare, mitigating for Knights, said he had got into difficulty after trading standards visited his offices in 2017 following complaints.
He said Knights, who was previously declared bankrupt in 2004, believed he did not need to get building approval for the conservatories as the manufacturer had told him they already had approval.
David Wilson, prosecuting, said customers had either not been told about building approval or, when asked, were told by salesmen the company would sort it - but it did not.
Mr Clare also said Knights had been told by his company’s liquidators that he was allowed to set up a new company and keep trading, despite the insolvency, which is why he continued to take customers’ deposits.
“This is not a particularly bad example of offences of this type,” Mr Clare said. “This is not overpricing. It is not systemic; it is chaotic at a time when his company, life and mental health were falling apart.”
He said that Knights had run the company successfully from 2007, but it had grown too big for him.
The company behind Conservatories Etc, called Celco Limited, collapsed in 2019 owing more than £600,000.
But customers had been having problems with it from at least 2017.
Vicky Mitchell, 43, from Diss, took the company to court in July 2018 and was awarded £4,765 in a dispute over the doors on her project, but was never paid.
“Knights put us through hell,” she said. “We took him to court, but he didn’t turn up for any of it.
“We know we will never see the money and that is what annoys me about the whole system.”
Ten other people had also taken out County Court Judgements against his company as of last year, totalling £124,000.
One of those was Sarah Peacock, but again the court order was ignored.
She paid a deposit of £3,600 in September 2018 but work never began.
The 70-year-old, from Walsham-le-Willows, said: “It was a horrible experience.”
Conrad Meehan, from Trading Standards, said they first had complaints about Conservatories Etc in 2017 and when they seized documents from the company’s office they revealed 52 customers had conservatories installed without getting building regulation approval.
Margaret Dewsbury, the council’s cabinet member for communities and partnerships, said: “This is another excellent example of the work of the Norfolk County Council Trading Standards team. We’re particularly grateful for all the victims who came forward and whose evidence helped us to build a strong case and secure this conviction of someone who was operating outside the law.”
September 2017 – Norfolk County Council Trading Standards first gives the company advice about Building Regulations after several complaints from customers.
Autumn 2017 - Trading Standards gets further complaints about the company.
December 2017 - It starts an investigation, including taking statements from customers and seizing documents from the company showroom and office in Wymondham.
July 2018 - Company goes into a “Creditors Voluntary Arrangement” meaning it can keep trading but has to pay back £460,000. It pays back £1,500.
March 2019 - The firm goes into liquidation and EDP articles lead to further complaints
April 2019 – Trading Standards begins legal action
May 2020 - Knights pleads guilty to two offences and not guilty to a third offence
August 2020 – Knights is sentenced at Norwich Crown Court
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