A ROGUE trader has been handed a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of defrauding elderly and vulnerable victims across the south.

Drainage engineer Jake Broughton was convicted at Southampton Crown Court following a year-long investigation by the city council's trading standards department.

Council bosses say the investigators unearthed "numerous instances of dishonest practice and overcharging".

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The authority received several complaints via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service about Plumbers 24/7 Ltd, which later changed its name to 24HR Services.

A council spokesperson said an independent drainage expert who gave evidence at the trial said Broughton should have charged only £54.16 to clear a blockage within half an hour but had demanded at least £407.33.

One of the victims was an 88-year-old woman who was too frail to leave her home and gave evidence via a live video link.

Broughton, of Curzon Road, Bournemouth, was found guilty of five offences of fraud.

He was sentenced to nine months in custody, suspended for two years, as well as being told to complete 250 hours of unpaid work. Judge Nicholas Rowland ordered him to pay compensation to the people he defrauded.

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The daughter of one of his victims, said: "This engineer treated my mother in a way which caused her a great deal of distress and anxiety.

"She has since passed away, but this incident remained with her, continually causing her a great deal of stress and worry. It shook her confidence and she never really recovered.

"I am pleased that justice has now been done."

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, added: "Broughton deliberately misled his victims, pressurising them into paying vast and unreasonable sums of money for basic work.

"We will not tolerate dishonest practices and are committed to safeguarding consumers and honest businesses."

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Cllr Dave Shields, the city council's cabinet member for stronger communities, said: “This is another excellent result for the trading standards teams and will hopefully offer some comfort to the victims."

Cllr Shields stressed that the authority would use the full force of the law to protect vulnerable citizens from people who tried to take financial advantage.

Broughton targeted people in Bath, Bognor Regis, Northampton, Banwell in North Somerset, and Southampton.