Fraudster who left customers 'angry and disappointed' avoids jail
Stuart Anderson and Chris Bishop
- Credit: Judd
A rogue trader who conned her customers out of more than £15,000 has walked free from court after her jail sentence was suspended.
Justine Long, 51, of Greengate, Swanton Morley, committed the crimes against eight customers between September 2019 and August 2020.
Long, a sole trader running a windows and doors firm, continued to take payments from customers after she ran into money problems but failed to carry out the work agreed to, and used logos on her documentation to give a false impression of security.
Long admitted the offences at King's Lynn Magistrates Court last month, and was sentenced on August 5 at Norwich Crown Court.
The court heard how Long's life had fallen apart since the crimes - she is undergoing a divorce, one of her children no longer speaks to her and she was forced to move out of her rented home. She is now staying with friends, working long hours in a care home on minimum wage.
William Carter, mitigating, said in addition to the £15,154 Long took from customers she had racked up another £15,000 in debt and had been "robbing Peter to pay Paul".
He said: "This didn't start out as deliberate fraud but the reality is that having taken over her father's business, which she had worked for, for 30 years, she overestimated her ability. She just wasn't as good as she thought she was."
The case was brought to court by Trading Standards. The Norfolk County Council body offered Long help after she ran into financial strife, which she declined to take up.
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Judge Katharine Moore sentenced Long to six months in prison, suspended for 21 months, and ordered her to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
She said: "You treated your customers shamefully. For whatever reason you found yourself in a situation where you made a series of increasingly poor decisions."
Reacting to the sentence, Margaret Dewsbury, county council cabinet member for communities and partnerships, said: “This is a satisfactory result and reflects the welcome decision by the defendant to plead guilty as early as possible as this saved those affected by her actions from having to testify in court."
Judge Moore said a proceeds of crime hearing would be held to work out how Long could repay the money she stole.
Case study: 'We felt angry and cheated'
Simon James and Judith Marshall paid Long a £995 deposit towards the £1,990 cost of replacing 11 windows on their house in Wymondham in July, 2019.
In September Long asked for more money because she was having problems with a bad debt, so the couple, who are both retired and in their 60s, advanced a further £495.
The fitter finally arrived to begin work in January, 2020. The couple paid the balance upon completion.
But retired railwayman Mr James said they noticed scratches in some of the glass panels. Some of the windows were unsafe because they weren't made from safety glass.
After Long made continual excuses for not acting to replace the windows, eventually Mr James called a glass company in, who said four of the windows needed to be replaced and the work would cost £600.
The work was meant to be carried out at Long's expense. When she did not pay, Mr James paid for the work.
He then took Long to court for the money, obtaining a county court judgement against her to repay £684, but has yet to receive any money.
Mr James said: "This has affected both my wife and I, we felt angry and cheated, we had known Long for some years and felt totally let down, we had arguments, it was a physical and mental strain for us both.
"Whilst we remain out of pocket we are delighted that the Norfolk Trading Standards team worked so tirelessly on our and others' behalf. We hope this may be a lesson for more than just this perpetrator."