TWO directors of a Warrington-based solar panel company have been handed four-year jail sentences following an investigation by Warrington trading standards.
Following a six-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court, the two men were each sentenced in relation to a complex solar panel fraud.
A jury found James Thomas Birchall, 36, guilty of 12 offences of fraud and money laundering and Peter Steven Haddley, 32, (pictured below) also known as Peter Davis, Peter Martin and Peter Small, guilty of 19 offences of fraud and theft. Both men had denied the offences.
James Birchall absented himself from the entire trial and Peter Haddley absconded during the trial. Warrants have been issued for their arrests.
The court was told the investigation related primarily to Key Energy Solutions Ltd of Winwick Street, Warrington that was linked with Future-Energy-UK Ltd of Piccadilly, Manchester.
Both companies were involved in the sale and supply of solar panels and battery systems for solar panel systems. Victims were enticed into purchasing solar panels with the promise of payments back from the electricity supplier when they generated electricity as part of a renewable energy promotion.
The investigation focused on:
• fraudulent use of trade association logos on contracts
• fraudulent statement on the contracts that the companies were authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
• Sales staff advising/enticing consumers into purchasing solar panels to benefit from the government feed-in tariff (FIT) when, in fact, they would be unable to claim such benefit, because the company was not certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)
• Not refunding consumers their deposits when they had cancelled the contract within the legal cooling-off period
• Providing a consumer with a fake MCS installation certificate
There were 14 victims, and the crimes impacted greatly on them, causing stress, financial pressures due to loans and the loss of confidence of dealing with traders – as well as the pressure involved with being called to give evidence in court. One victim said that her dying husband was left worrying about how she would be able to afford the financial repayments for the loans taken out for the panels.
After the hearing, Warrington Borough Council’s lead member for public protection, Cllr Judith Guthrie, said: “This is a real victory for our trading standards team, and a great example of how their meticulous investigations are protecting people and helping bring criminals to justice.
“The acts of these men have had a huge impact on people, causing anguish and anxiety. I hope these verdicts will help all of the victims put the misery they have suffered behind them.”
In sentencing, Judge Conrad said it had been a, “prolonged cynical fraud designed to target decent and reliable people.” It had been carefully planned out and pressure was applied to the victims.
He went on to explain that for the fraud act offences he had judged Birchall and Haddley to both have high culpability. He also disqualified both Birchall and Haddley as directors for 10 years saying that they consented and connived to the fraud and they were both totally unfit to be directors.