A builder, a lawyer and a detective talk with Rita de Brún about the conmen who call door-to-door.
“I can tell by the cut of them.” There’s nothing like a spell of fine weather and a stretch in the evening to entice cowboy builders out of the shadows and onto the streets.
But, while they’re as entitled as the rest of us to be there, it pays to be vigilant when they come walking through our gates and knocking on our front doors.
Recalling the case of one Cork family who fell victim to charlatans, Seán Leahy, managing director at Liam Leahy & Son Building Contractors says:
They then scarpered, leaving carnage behind. When Leahy’s Midleton based firm was called in to help, he found they’d left the roof ready to collapse: “This happened to a lovely, decent family. Nobody deserves to be ripped off that way.”
Cork city based Detective Garda Robert McCarthy has copious experience in apprehending, investigating and prosecuting rogue traders.
He too shares a story:
The rogue took close to €20,000 of their savings, caused massive destruction and vanished. But he didn’t get away with it. As the odious gang was ‘working’, McCarthy just so happened to be passing by. He guessed the nasty game that was being played and intervened.
As a result of his quick-thinking, fast-acting response and his perseverance in ensuring justice was done, the cowboy got the jail-time he so justly deserved.
Asked for his top tips on avoiding rogue traders, Seán Leahy replies: “Word-of-mouth recommendation is the safest way to select workmen. Other than that, get at least three quotes.
Many who run into difficulty with rip-off merchants fail to report them to gardaí, wrongly believing their wrongdoing to be of a civil rather than a criminal nature.
“We have to differentiate between what’s a criminal matter and what’s a civil matter,” says Cian Moriarty, solicitor with Cork-based law firm Fachtna O’Driscoll.
Advising that there have been many cases in which homeowners have been fraudulently induced to part with cash for unnecessary repairs, he adds: “Pretending a roof is rotten then taking money to repair or replace it is fraud and a crime.”
Getting redress in pursuing civil actions against cowboy tradesmen can be a difficult and time-consuming process: “When the owner gets to court, there’s unlikely to be any evidence the roof was perfect when the rogue replaced it.”
Establishing where the workman lives can sometimes be tricky. Also, the fairness of our legal system can work against wronged homeowners pursuing cowboy tradesmen.
“Our legal system is very fair in that it gives defendants every opportunity to deal with issues before complainants are awarded judgment against them. But if the workman chooses to ignore all requests to resolve these issues, it might be months before the complainant can go to trial.
“Because achieving a just or acceptable outcome can be fraught with difficulty, many won’t take civil claims against rogue workmen.”
Det. Garda Robert McCarthy urges people to contact gardaí if they’ve concerns about rogue workmen. “Criminal damage, deception, and demanding money with menaces are just some of the crimes they engage in. An Garda Síochána is very active in preventing, apprehending and prosecuting offenders.”
Asked who these rogue traders are and whether they operate in families, he replies: “They’re conmen, criminals who travel the country. Some operate with family members. Others operate with associates.”
To illustrate how prevalent the problem is, McCarthy tells a story: “I know of a case where they pretended a roof needed repairing, damaged it in the process of carrying out said ‘repairs’, and vanished with the payment.
McCarthy’s tale brings home the point that the rogue traders are very much out there, insidiously endeavouring to pounce and inflict their malevolence on honest, decent people.
Asked how or if we can recognise them, Seán Leahy replies: “I tend to know by the walk of these people, by gut instinct. Usually, I can tell by the cut of them.”
Detective Garda Robert McCarthy offers the following advice: