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Bristol rogue trader slapped with criminal order after victims built dossier to expose him

Lewis Thomas, who operated anonymous carpentry businesses on social media, has six months to pay back £5,000 after pleading guilty to fraudulent practices.

Illustration: Sophia Checkley

Reports

In the summer of 2022, a group of customers who’d banded together after being scammed by a mysterious Bristol carpentry business delivered a detailed dossier of evidence to the police. 

They were pleased with what they’d uncovered. They’d linked it all back to one man, Lewis Thomas. But only now, after more than 18 months – and many more cases – the rogue trader has finally faced real consequences.

Thomas would offer jobs such as installing loft ladders and insulation, communicate with customers on Facebook Messenger, take deposit payments and request extra cash for materials due to supply problems. After cancelling jobs at the last minute or not showing up at all, he would hold onto customers’ deposits – often hundreds of pounds – if they got cold feet and requested a refund.

At times when his business was called out for this shady pattern of behaviour, he would simply change the Facebook page’s name or set up a new one altogether. 

A Cable investigation in 2022 uncovered these dodgy business practices. This prompted the firm, at the time called Everyday Carpentry Services, to announce it would be closing down and reimbursing the multiple people it owed.

But a few months later, reports began to swirl online about another business, Ace Things Loft, operating in a suspiciously similar way. A second Cable expose linked the new firm back to Thomas and revealed that Bristol City Council’s trading standards department was investigating. 

This week Thomas, 33, of Stockwood Road, was ordered by a judge to pay back what he owes to victims, roughly £5,000, over the next six months. 

Fraudulent practices

The order comes after Lewis pleaded guilty to fraudulent business practices on 11 December 2023 at Bristol Crown Court. Between January 2022 and April 2023, these included providing misleading information on which timescales the work would be completed, failing to provide refunds, using a number of different business names, failing to provide customers with their rights to cancel, and failure to provide information about his business on his Facebook page.

The Tradings Standards investigation, which was based on 17 victims’ stories, found that Thomas operated un 27 different business names.

Thomas’ sentencing was deferred for six months to prioritise the compensation of his victims. He is due back in court on 15 August. 

One of Thomas’ Facebook pages changed its name so many times.

Thomas’ lawyer said that the offences coincided with a difficult time in his personal life and that he came to court “as a bit of a broken man”. She added that he is not currently working and is claiming benefits, but “wants to clear his debt and repay people”.

Bristol City Council applied for a Criminal Behaviour Order to place restrictions on any future business activity by the rogue trader.  The judge granted an interim order for the next six months that prohibits Thomas from engaging in any trade, either as a sole trader or subcontractor, without providing the name and address of business to trading standards. Any breach of this order could land him up to five years in prison.

Judge Longman said: “It seems to me, despite clear dishonesty, there is good reason to think the risk of further offending is low… During the course of the next six months, you must do your best to set aside money to compensate your victims.”

‘He made his bed, so he’s got to lie in it’

The Cable has spoken to more than 20 customers who paid Thomas deposits over a two-year period, only for him to cancel appointments or not show up. Either they had to wait months for a refund, report the fraud to their bank to get one, or are still waiting for their money back. There were other customers who were happy with the jobs Thomas did, and those who were repaid when they requested a refund. 

As recently as November 2023, the Cable spoke to customers who were waiting on refunds or had made a claim to their bank from the T Renovations, the latest company name used by the rogue trader. Then on 27 December, Thomas announced on Facebook that T Renovations would be closing down. 

There are still several people still waiting for hundreds of pounds in refunds, including Amanda Coles, who took Thomas to small claims court but is still £550 out of pocket nearly two years later.

“He’s had 18 months to pay me back and not even attempted to,” she said. “It’s positive that he will have to pay it back, we’ll be grateful when we get our refunds. But there’s a lack of faith in the system. 

“It’s the frustration of having to go through it all,” she said, referring to her unsuccessful attempts to reclaim her money. 

“It’s good that he’s had to answer for what he’s done,” she said. “But I think there’s questions about how it’s all going to work and who polices him here on in.

“He’s made his bed, so he’s got to lie in it. Time will tell if he’s turned a new leaf or not.”

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said: “Mr Thomas’ actions have caused significant undue stress to his victims and their families, damaging their trust and leaving many out of pocket during a national cost of living crisis. Thankfully, due to the excellent work carried out by our Trading Standards Service, Mr Thomas’ victims will see their hard-earned money reimbursed.

“This prosecution serves as another clear reminder to any would-be rogue trader that these practices are not welcome in our city. We will not hesitate to take swift and decisive action against cowboy builders.

“If you have been the victim of a scam or rogue trader, please report it via the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline. This ensures that you get the advice you need and that our Trading Standards Service can investigate and reduce the harm caused by rogue traders.”

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Comments

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  • Thanks Matty for your diligent journalism. I was a victim. I believe justice is served by prioritising compensation

    Reply

    • There are hundreds of people who have been scammed by this guy can they be added to the people in the original case ? Before it goes back to court in august?

      Reply

  • I have just been duped by him on Facebook market place. He is still doing the same thing and getting away with it.
    Facebook can’t help me apparently.

    Reply

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