Jailed cowboy builder conned victims out of £86,000 for shoddy repairs

Ellen Manning
·3-min read
Cowboy builder
Jailed builder James Lee Knight left customers with shoddy work including roof joists balanced on blocks. (SWNS)

A cowboy builder has been jailed after completing shoddy work for customers – including leaving the first floor of one home balanced precariously on blocks.

James Lee Knight failed to finish some jobs while others were left so poorly built they had to be demolished and re-done.

Truro Crown Court heard that the 44-year-old advertised his services on Facebook and between January 2017 and September 2020 persuaded at least eight victims to pay for works.

He failed to do a lot of the work, and some jobs were completed to such low standards that they had to be re-done.

Knight, from Hayle, Cornwall, was jailed for two years and three months after admitting nine offences of fraud, one offence of theft and one of criminal damage.

Knight took money from eight homeowners in Cornwall between January 2017 and September 2020 but most of the work he did had to be redone. (SWNS)
Knight took money from eight homeowners in Cornwall between January 2017 and September 2020 but most of the work he did had to be redone. (SWNS)

Recorder Simon Levene was told how Knight had ruined the lives of many of his victims and had profited £86,000 in total – with some customers paying him more than £28,000 for work that was never completed.

Gregory Gordon, prosecutor for Cornwall Council, said Knight's first victim was quoted £26,000 to build an extension, but when the customers confronted Knight about bringing his dogs to the site and spending time walking them and going on the school run, he didn't come back.

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He left the first floor of the property precariously propped up with wooden boards and breeze blocks, with the family's children's bedroom unsafe so they had to sleep on their parents' floor for more than a month.

Gordon said: "The extension was for their children, it was supposed to be their forever home that they had bought and anticipated handing it on to their children when they passed and now they are stuck in a house they do not want to be home."

Much of the work Knight did had to be demolished and re-done by other builders. (SWNS)
Much of the work Knight did had to be demolished and re-done by other builders. (SWNS)

Knight eventually admitted he couldn't complete the work and the customer took legal action but failed to get back the £6,250 he had already paid, with much of the work having to be demolished.

In the second case, in 2017, a woman paid over £5,000 of a £8,500 contract to Knight to demolish a lean-to and build a small two-storey extension but he started turning up with his girlfriend and their children, then didn't turn up at all and made excuses or didn't have the equipment.

Representing Knight, Ramsay Quaife said the defendant was caring for his father, who suffers from a variation of motor neurone disease.

"He continues to work as a bricklayer and has pretty much sorted himself out,” he said.

Sentencing Knight to two years three months in prison, recorder Levene said Knight should have stuck to bricklaying.

He said: "Essentially you were a dishonest builder who took his clients for a ride, got a lot of money off them and did a really terrible job."

He added: "I take into account the very long-lasting effect of your fraud on your clients.

"If you had stolen their money but left the house in a beautiful condition that would have been a different kind of offences all together.

"All I need to do is look at the cost of the fraud to your victims the effects of your workmanship to see how serious your fraud is."

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