Former Aston Villa player cashed cheques for cowboy builders,court told
Former Aston Villa player Phil King cashed cheques from victims of a criminal scam in which shoddy and overpriced work was done on people’s homes, a court has heard.
The scam was allegedly carried out by two contractors, David Merriman and Trevor Bateman, who undertook building work that was said to be “poorly performed, overpriced or simply unnecessary”.
Their clients were often elderly women, some of whom lived alone, Oxford Crown Court was told.
Cheques for thousands of pounds were made out to King, 43, who cashed them at the pub he runs in Swindon, The Dolphin Hotel, it was alleged.
The former footballer, who also played for Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon Town, is charged with six counts of converting criminal property, while Merriman, 49, and Bateman, 54, between them face 29 counts of fraud, engaging in an unfair commercial practice, transferring criminal property and engaging in a commercial practice that was aggressive.
All three men deny the charges against them.
King became a Villa hero in 1994 when he scored the winning penalty in a shoot-out against Italian giants Inter Milan at Villa Park in the UEFA Cup first round.
Opening the case for the prosecution, Nigel Lickley QC described how Merriman and Bateman’s victims parted with vast sums after agreeing to escalating amounts of work being carried out by their building business, AS Contractors.
Their approach to business, he said, was characterised by cold-calling customers; often beginning on a relatively small job before the work escalated into something more major; completing work to a poor standard or leaving it unfinished; and overcharging clients.
“Some were confused,” he told the court. “They were left without proper quotes and receipts.
“You can imagine the confusion of the elderly when they’re being asked to hand over large sums of money and are unsure what it relates to.”
One elderly woman, who paid about £47,000 for a variety of jobs, was “to put it bluntly, fleeced of her money”, he said.
Outlining King’s alleged part in the affair, he went on: “Cheques were cashed at the pub.
“They were not made out as payable to AS Contractors but to the Dolphin Inn or to Mr King himself. The cheque would be cashed by him. He would hand over large amounts of cash.”
After King had handed the money to Bateman and Merriman, they would often go outside and give it to their workmen, who would then spend it on drink in King’s pub, the court heard.
Mr Lickley said: “We say Mr King knew or believed (the money) was a result of criminal activity.”
When questioned, King said he had cashed up to £40,000 of cheques for the contractors “but didn’t know their surnames”, the court was told.
“He accepted he might have been taking a risk,” Mr Lickley said. “He said it was good for his business in running the pub.”
He paid out the money by dipping into a reserve of about £25,000 he kept in cash at the pub “because he liked to gamble on horses”, jurors heard.
“He said he was given a few pounds each time for cashing the cheque,” Mr Lickley added. “He said on a few occasions it did cross his mind that something might not be right.”
Merriman and Bateman’s victims were spread out over Oxfordshire and were clients of the contractors between 2008 and 2009, the court heard.
“Many have had to employ others to rectify the work carried out by the defendants,” Mr Lickley said.
Even after the two men had been interviewed at length by trading standards officers in Oxfordshire, they moved to West Berkshire and appeared to carry on, treating two more women “in a very similar way”, the court heard.
The elderly woman who paid them about £47,000 at first obtained quotes from Merriman for a number of small jobs after receiving a flier advertising his business, jurors were told.
Among other things, she was quoted £160 for having moss removed from her roof and £500 for work on her bathroom, Mr Lickley said.
She paid a cheque of more than £3,000 in total but was then told she must hand over a further £1,850 “for wages”, he said.
“The work escalated and small amounts were paid in cash,” he went on. “Mr Merriman persuaded her to have more work done, including £600 for a new carpet.
“More cheques and payments were requested from that lady and paid by her, though she can’t remember what all the payments were for.”
Many of these cheques were cashed at King’s pub, the court heard.
“Despite the money paid, the work was not finished,” Mr Lickley said. “(The woman) became more and more confused.
“She asked for a breakdown. She never got one.”
A surveyor who examined a number of the properties the defendants worked on found the householders had often paid well in excess of what the job was worth, the jury was told.
“We suggest that many of these actions were quite deliberate”, Mr Lickley said of the contractors. “If it suited them, they would take advantage of people for financial gain.”
King, of Rodbourne Road, Swindon, denies knowing the cheques they handed him were the proceeds of crime and said he was “merely doing his customers a favour as the workers stayed on and drank in the pub and it was a way of making money”, Mr Lickley said.
Merriman, of Swansdowne Drive, Nottingham, is charged with seven counts of fraud, seven counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice, six counts of transferring criminal property and one count of engaging in a commercial practice that was aggressive.
Bateman, of Oakham Close, Swindon, is charged with 11 counts of fraud, five counts of transferring criminal property, 10 counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice and one count of engaging in a commercial practice that was aggressive.
The trial, due to last four or five weeks, was adjourned to Wednesday.