THREE mobile fish sellers who sold fish unfit for human consumption and ripped off elderly and vulnerable consumers to the tune of about £325,000 have been jailed.
Matthew Dudding, Paul Dudding and Daniel Whitley, from Durham, were yesterday (Friday, June 18) sentenced to a combined total of eight years in prison at Teesside Crown Court.
Between November 19, 2016 and June 25, 2019, the trio used aggressive sales practices to pressure more than 100 elderly victims into buying excessive quantities of poor quality fish at exorbitant prices.
They deliberately targeted vulnerable and older people living in the North of England and the Midlands, including people with serious health conditions, in the belief they were less likely to question the sale or complain.
The court heard that some victims felt threatened in their own home if they challenged the price of the fish or couldn’t afford to pay.
A 90-year-old victim described feeling bullied and pressurised into purchasing a large volume of fish, after one of the fraudsters entered her home uninvited.
Despite agreeing to pay £56, she was charged £156 without her knowledge.
The experience has left her feeling vulnerable.
A significant amount of the produce sold by the trio was such poor quality that it was unfit for human consumption.
Food safety management procedures were often ignored, including monitoring the temperature for storing fish.
One victim became unwell with vomiting and sickness within a few hours of eating the fish supplied by the defendants.
Judge Jonathan Carroll said described the fraudsters "like wolves descending on weak, vulnerable and elderly” and said the “public, especially the vulnerable need to be protected”.
Matthew Paul Dudding
Matthew Paul Dudding, 32, described as the principal financial beneficiary of the fraud, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading, and was sentenced to five years, 11 months and two weeks.
Paul Anthony Dudding
Paul Dudding, 60, and Daniel Whitley, 44, both pleaded guilty to contravening professional diligence, contrary to consumer protection legislation, and were sentenced to 13 months each.
Daniel Thomas Whitley
The Judge said the clear conclusion was that the three were "all crooks and fundamentally dishonest" with a “sngle approach to business - bullying an intimidating” and had showed “contemptuous arrogance and callow disregard to customers”.
he investigation was led by the National Trading Standards North East Regional Investigations Team.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said: “Elderly and vulnerable customers were viewed as soft and easy targets by these unscrupulous fraudsters who have, over a number of years, demonstrated a callous attitude towards their victims.
"Those who fell for the scam were left feeling angry and ashamed. In addition to the dishonest practices demonstrated by these criminals, some of their crimes took place during a period when clear social distancing requirements were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Those requirements were flagrantly ignored by the defendants in order to make money, with little, if any regard to the risks to their victims.
“If you or someone you know, has fallen victim to a fraud like this you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline by calling 03454 04 05 06.”