Sat, 20 Feb 2021
Villagers in Kintbury were allegedly targetted in a £17m solar panels scam.
The prosecution alleges the defendants – traders from ESE Group Ltd and ESE Services Ltd, based in Sprint Way, Liverpool – used “harassment, coercion or undue influence” to sell solar panel equipment and bogus services.
On Friday, nine men appeared for a preliminary hearing at Reading Magistrates’ Court following an investigation involving West Berkshire Council trading standards officers.
Among them was 44-year-old company director Gary Fredson, who faces 12 charges of knowingly or recklessly engaging in a commercial practice.
His firm is accused of unfairly selling bogus solar panel maintenance contracts and equipment.
Charge sheets indicated that buyers were sent “marketing letters” and were then overcharged.
Prosecutors will claim the defendants offered a “free” health check for solar panels involving a home visit, the actual purpose of which was a ploy to sell more of their products, which included an “upgrade” which could boost performance.
Customers were allegedly given a solar panel maintenance booklet featuring the logo of NAPIT, an accredited membership scheme for traders, even though that body does not run a scheme for the maintenance of solar panels.
Charges included an allegation that, on March 26, 2018, a man who lived on Lawrence Mead, Kintbury, was subjected to harassment, coercion or undue influence by ESE Services intended to make him take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.
It was alleged that one woman, Sarah Woodhouse, had been wrongly told that works to her solar panel system costing £5,800, would generate a lot more electricity and pay for itself straight away.
Lee Reynolds, prosecuting on behalf of West Berkshire District Council, said: “This is a case involving what the prosecution say is a serious fraud matter.
“The prosecution allege that the value of this is in excess of £17m.
“It is a case involving what we say is an organised fraud in which consumers were routinely contacted and then mis-sold items concerning solar panels at their properties.”
The defendants spoke only to confirm their details at the hearing and did not enter pleas to the charges at this stage.
Magistrates ruled that the case was so serious their own powers of punishment, in the event of convictions, could be insufficient.
They therefore declined further jurisdiction and sent all matters to Reading Crown Court where they will be dealt with by a judge and, in the event of a trial, by a jury.
Andrew Fredson, aged 40, of Pochard Rise, Norton, Cheshire; Gary Fredson, aged 44, of Stoneleigh Park, Thornton, Cheshire; Ian Fredson, aged 45, of Richfield Close, Halton, Cheshire; Azis Ghanchi, aged 41, of Sandringham Close, Blackburn, Lancashire; Shaun Gill, of Bryn Street, Widnes, Cheshire; Jack Lawrenson, aged 31, of Burrard Road, Runcorn, Cheshire; William Lawrenson, of Bond Street, Macclesfield, Cheshire; Leighton McCardle, aged 45, of St Marys Road, Runcorn, Cheshire and Jonathan Walsh, aged 38, of James Atkinson Way, Crewe, Cheshire, were meanwhile released on unconditional bail.