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Fraudsters who pressured elderly and vulnerable people in Rutland into buying fish sentenced to a combined total of 8 years

Three mobile fish sellers who misled and defrauded elderly and vulnerable consumers out of approximately £325,000 have been sentenced to a combined total of eight years at Teesside Crown Court.

The three men, who sold their produce in Cambridgeshire, Rutland and the north of England, used aggressive sales practices to pressure more than 100 elderly victims into purchasing excessive quantities of poor-quality fish at exorbitant prices.

They were arrested in Ramsey, in June 2019, by officers from Cambridgeshire Police. The arrests followed tip-offs by members of the public on social media, after a request for information from residents was posted by Peterborough City Council.

Stock images of fresh fish on a market display. Photo: istock/hdagli
Stock images of fresh fish on a market display. Photo: istock/hdagli

The investigation which led to their conviction was led by the Trading Standards North East Regional Investigations Team, with assistance from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards.

Between November 19, 2016 and June 25, 2019, Matthew Dudding, 32, of Lilac Avenue, Durham, Paul Dudding, 60, of Lund Avenue, Durham and Daniel Whitley, 44, of Roseberry Street, Beamish, targeted vulnerable and older people, including those with serious health conditions, in the belief that they were less likely to question the sale or complain. Some victims felt threatened in their homes if they challenged the price of the fish, or couldn’t afford to pay.

A 90-year-old victim described feeling bullied and pressured into purchasing a large volume of fish, after one of the fraudsters entered her home uninvited. Despite agreeing to pay £56, she was charged £156, without her knowledge. The court heard that the experience had left her feeling vulnerable.

A significant amount of the produce sold by the trio was of such poor quality, that it was unfit for human consumption. Food safety management procedures were often ignored, including monitoring the temperature for storing fish. This resulted in one victim becoming unwell after eating fish supplied by the defendants.

The three men were sentenced at Teesside Crown Court on June 18, 2021.

Matthew Dudding, the principal financial beneficiary of the fraud, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading, and was sentenced to five years, 11 months and two weeks.

Paul Dudding and Daniel Whitley both pleaded guilty to contravening professional diligence, contrary to consumer protection legislation, and were sentenced to 13 months each.

Peter Gell, assistant director of regulatory services at Peterborough City Council, said: “The conviction of these men is the result of outstanding collaboration between the Trading Standards North East Regional Investigations Team and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards officers.

“Their prison sentences should act as a warning to anyone who thinks they can prey on the vulnerable or conduct business fraudulently.”

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, said: “Elderly and vulnerable customers were viewed as soft and easy targets by these unscrupulous fraudsters who have, over a number of years, demonstrated a callous attitude towards their victims.

“Those who fell for the scam were left feeling angry and ashamed. In addition to the dishonest practices demonstrated by these criminals, some of their crimes took place during a period when clear social distancing requirements were in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Those requirements were flagrantly ignored by the defendants in order to make money, with little, if any regard to the risks to their victims.

“If you or someone you know, has fallen victim to a fraud like this you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.”

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