A Hampshire gardener accused of conning a vulnerable pensioner out of thousands of pounds told a court he would “rather die” than commit fraud.

Robert Whitaker is alleged to have conspired with his two nephews, John and James Whitaker, to defraud the 89-year-old man of £6,400, by making him pay for work they supposedly carried out in his garden between July and December 2011.

Southampton Crown Court heard that the trio visited the elderly man at his Bassett home as many as 13 times over the six-month period, including four visits in the space of a week during December.

They even drove him to the bank to take money out of the cashpoint machine, the court was told.

But Robert Whitaker told jurors that his own family had fallen victim to rogue traders in the past, and described them as “disgusting”.

He said: “It’s happened to my mum and she’s disabled. I didn’t like it very much.

“I’d never do a thing like that to someone else. I’d rather die.”

In mitigation, defence counsel Richard Martin asked Robert Whitaker if the pensioner had made a “dreadful mistake” in identifying him as “the boss” of the team responsible for the fraud.

He replied: “Definitely. It was nothing to do with me.”

Robert Whitaker told the court he had been in the gardening trade for 15 years, running his own firm under the name Robert Whitaker Tree Care.

Jurors heard how he was now “running the business down” to become a security guard and had asked his former customers for references.

Mr Martin read a host of the statements to jurors, which described Robert Whitaker as “an honest hard-working tradesman” and a “trustworthy individual”.

The court heard how his nephew, James Whitaker, ran a separate gardening business, Chandler’s Ford Tree and Landscape Services.

John Whitaker told jurors he often worked alongside James, his brother, but said he had “no recollection” of them carrying out any work in the Bassett area.

Prosecutor Charles Gabb told the court that John Whitaker’s mobile phone had been picked up using masts in the Bassett and Highfield areas of the city in December, on the days that the pensioner was allegedly driven to the bank by the trio to withdraw cash.

Robert Whitaker, 47, formerly of Ennell Copse in North Baddesley, John Whitaker, 43, from Allen Grove, Romsey, and James Whitaker, 40, from Triangle Gardens in Nursling, all deny fraud.