‘Cowboy builder’ accused of £440K scam and ‘leaving trail of destroyed lives’

At least 30 people have accused a “cowboy builder” of conning them out of more than £440,000 for incomplete construction work over a period of more than 15 years.

The group, most of whom have asked to remain anonymous, told PA Real Life they were scammed out of a total of £442,665 by Devon-based builder Steven Gent, whom they said operated under many company names and aliases.

Mr Gent was first reported to the authorities 15 years ago in 2009 and more than a dozen times since, but Wendy Craig, 66, from Preston, South Devon, said they have been “useless and done nothing”.

Ms Craig called for new measures to register and monitor construction workers as she fears Mr Gent’s case is just a “drop in the ocean” and some builders are being allowed to commit fraud on an “industrial scale”.

Trading Standards have confirmed Mr Gent is currently under investigation after receiving a “number of complaints”.

Wendy's house was a mess
Wendy Craig said Steven Gent left her house in a ‘complete mess’ (Wendy Craig/PA Real Life)

“Angry and desperate”, Ms Craig decided to create a “name and shame” Facebook group for her local area and soon found dozens more people complaining about Mr Gent.

“Mr Gent has left a trail of destroyed lives, homes that have lost value and desperate homeowners who do not know where to turn for help,” Ms Craig told PA.

Comparing people’s stories, Ms Craig has been able to decipher what she described as Mr Gent’s “playbook”.

She said he presents well and offers to start work immediately before demanding a deposit.

Once work starts, Ms Craig found he requests further payments before suddenly breaking off communication and disappearing.

Wendy Craig
Wendy Craig created a ‘name and shame’ Facebook group (Wendy Craig/PA Real Life)

Between 2007 and 2023, Mr Gent was linked to nine companies which have all been dissolved, including Ocean Construction Devon Ltd, Gent & Son Building Contractors Ltd, Broadsands Building Contractors Ltd, Bay Build Ltd, Torbay Build Ltd, Transformations SW Ltd, Gent Enterprises Ltd, Torbay Beach Hut Company Ltd and SOB SW Ltd.

Ms Craig said he also used a number of aliases, including Martyn Evans, Steve Ringmore, Steven Taylor, Andy Styles and Mike Jones, to cover his tracks.

Those who have lost vast sums of money regularly reported Mr Gent to the authorities, including the police, Trading Standards, building control and Torbay Council as early as 2009.

But Ms Craig said they have been “useless and done nothing”.

“You try everything to recover your money,” she added.

“You report it to the police and are told they can’t help because it’s a civil matter.

Rubble outside Wendy's house
The scene after Wendy paid £7,000 to renovate her garage in September 2021 (Wendy Craig/PA Real Life)

Out of options, Ms Craig took her case to the Torquay and Newton Abbot County and Family Court and was awarded £12,416.48, due to be paid by Mr Gent by June 5, 2023.

She has yet to receive a penny and she is not alone.

Sidney Rose, a 73-year-old retired school teacher, told PA Real Life he has been forced to return to work after being scammed out of £30,000 by Mr Gent.

Mr Rose and his partner, Catherine Beetham, also 73, took out a loan against their terraced Edwardian house to make it more comfortable for them in their older age.

But he said Mr Gent, operating under the name White Rock Building Services, conned them out of £30,000 before leaving their home and garden in an “absolute mess”.

Sidney Rose and Catherine Beetham
Sidney Rose and his partner Catherine Beetham, both retired teachers, also said they were scammed by Steven Gent (Sidney Rose/PA Real Life)

“This is about an individual who owes us money because he ripped us off.

“The whole system that I have had to deal with is just so ridiculous.

“If that’s what British tax payers are paying for, they are being robbed.”

PA contacted Steven Gent, who said: “They are unproven allegations and Wendy Craig is currently under investigation by the police.”

A spokesperson for the Heart of the Southwest Trading Standards Service said: “We have received a number of complaints regarding Mr Gent and we are investigating.

“Members of the public who feel that they have been unfairly treated, misled or owed money by a tradesperson are entitled to pursue a civil court claim and in the first instance they should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service who will be able to advise further.”

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