Cowboy builder who scammed 50 families told ‘you’re a menace’

Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin demanded more and more money from his customers but did not finish his jobs - Solent News & Photo Agency

A cowboy builder described as a “thorough menace” has been jailed for five years after scamming more than 50 families out of nearly £650,000.

Lawrence Martin “took advantage” of vulnerable customers, including one woman who was having work done to help her dying father-in-law, a court heard.

The “fundamentally dishonest” 36-year-old pressured clients into paying tens of thousands of pounds in deposits to ensure work could begin, before declaring more and more work needed doing as costs soared.

One couple lost more than £110,000 as a result of his fraud, while dozens of heartbroken victims were left with wrecked homes and empty bank accounts as their life savings were cleaned out in a campaign of fraud which lasted a “very long time”.

The court heard how Martin, described as a “thorough menace”, demanded more and more money from his victims, despite no job ever getting finished, telling one customer “you got more chance of winning the lottery” than getting a refund.

Over a nearly five-year period, the father-of-four – who had no official roofing qualifications – left customers across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in tears and some even having to change the locks to stop him returning, it was heard.

After admitting two counts of fraudulent trading and one of fraud, Martin did not react as he was jailed at Southampton Crown Court for five years for his “disgraceful conduct”.

‘Pressure placed on customers’

Prosecutor Ethu Crorie told the court his offending was split in two periods – while sole director of Eastleigh-based firm CLJ roofing and when he continued with his own personal bank account, between January 2018 and October 2022.

His vulnerable clients included a widow, those with disabilities, and the family of a terminally ill man.

Damage and poor work at a customer's home that Lawrence Martin worked on
Damage and shoddy work at a customer's home that Lawrence Martin worked on - Solent News & Photo Agency

“In brief, Martin quoted for building/roofing works at a property,” Mr Crorie said. “He gave the impression that he was a successful and professional trader.

“Pressure was placed on customers to agree to the work quickly, potential dates for starting the work were suggested but would only be available if a deposit was paid.

“Once the work started, frequently, he would identify further works and the costs would grow.

“Customers felt obliged to agree to these additional works for a number of reasons including the fact that the work had already been started and the fact that Martin would state that the work was being done at a discount because he was already on site.

“He also asked for additional payments to cover, for example, workers that needed to be paid and shortfalls to cover him misquoting the job.

“Martin, in truth, was lying about what the money was going to be used for.”

Damage to groundwork at the home of a customer of Martin's
Dozenns of heartbroken victims were left with wrecked homes - Solent News & Photo Agency

One couple, from Alresford, near Winchester, lost £48,794 and had to spend a further £40,000 fixing poor building work carried out by Martin.

The court heard Martin “misled” them by advising there were rotten timbers in the roof. He told a querying customer he did not have membership to the Competent Roofer scheme – but that “90 per cent of roofers did not have it either”.

It was heard Martin would “keep finding new work to do” despite “not completing any of the work already paid for”.

Sharon Netley and partner Paul Harris came off worst, losing out on £92,668 and spending £22,000 on remedial costs.

Martin told Mr Harris that if Facebook comments were removed and the complaint to Trading Standards was withdrawn then he would refund £50,000 – which he never did.

‘Thorough menace’

Defending, Jennifer Brenton said Martin felt remorse and wanted to pass on his apologies to those he had defrauded.

She said his trading “was not fraudulent from the outset”. However, she admitted Martin was “erroneously” identifying work to be done.

Judge Peter Henry said: “He may be incompetent at building, but he is not incompetent at defrauding people.

“There was serious harm caused as evidenced by their victim personal statements.

“The impact upon those has been substantial, not just in terms of financial loss but in terms of health, anxiety and depression and work they have had to do to get their premises repaired properly.

“People like you are a thorough menace – not only giving the building industry a bad name but for causing victims devastating injury.”

Martin was sentenced to five years in jail, of which he will serve half before being released on licence.

He was also made subject of a 10-year Criminal Behaviour Order, barring him from any kind of building or roofing work. He will however be allowed to practise as an electrician upon his release.

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