Rogue trader | 

OAP fleeced by cowboy builder Stephen Stewart passed away before he got justice

Rogue trader Stewart avoided jail last week after swindling thousands from vulnerable elderly customers

Stephen Stewart

The van owned by Stephen Stewart after he 'went to get materials'

Paul HigginsSunday World

“Everyone needs to see this man’s face,” declared the son of a pensioner who was fleeced by cowboy tradesman Stephen Stewart.

“A leopard doesn’t change its spots,” said Robert, who didn’t want to use his real name.

“I don’t believe his supposed apology, but I am a big believer in karma and he’ll get his comeuppance in the end.”

Robert’s dad was one of the 59 pensioners hoodwinked by rogue painter and decorator Stewart, who confessed to 55 charges under trading standards legislation.

But the 90-year-old sadly died before he saw justice done.

Trading under the names NI Home Improvements and S.S. Services, 49-year-old Stewart, originally from Larne but now living in a hostel in Belfast, admitted 50 counts of reckless commercial practice, three of misleading commercial practice, and two of aggressive commercial practice.

His crimes were committed between February 2019 and July 2021.

Antrim Crown Court last week heard how Stewart left behind a trail of vulnerable OAPs feeling “annoyed, hurt, angry, embarrassed, upset and manipulated” after they handed him cash upfront for work that was either not done or done to a shoddy standard.

The transactions ranged between £80 and £3,500, amounting to almost £60,000 — none of which will ever be paid back.

The van owned by Stephen Stewart after he 'went to get materials'

Stewart “cold called” at pensioners’ homes, identifying work supposedly needing done, demanding either deposits or full payment upfront before giving them “illegible or hard to read” receipts and a leaflet explaining their alleged rights to refunds.

Robert’s dad was one of those who was sucked in by Stewart’s empty promises and fake smile.

“On the day we found some kid up in dad’s roof pretending to repoint the chimney, Stewart rushed back in his big white van, claiming he had been away getting materials for the job, but when we opened it up it was basically empty,’’ said Robert.

“The police were on the scene really quickly and he even tried to spin them a line of b******t, but they were having none of it and made him hand back a £1,000 cheque dad had written.

“What’s really galling is that when we went through the bank statements, we discovered multiple cash transfers.

“He was frogmarching him down to the bank to do that, and that really angers me. If I had known I would have been absolutely livid. Essentially, Stewart took the money and disappeared.

“It preyed on dad’s mind but he never spoke about it. He was just too embarrassed and ended up, we think, about £1,500 out of pocket.

“Stewart is just a pig with no regard for the elderly at all.”

In court last Thursday Judge McCormick said because he had already spent 464 days in jail while the case progressed, she handed Stewart a one-year sentence, suspended for three years.

The defence admitted there was “no prospect” of anyone getting their money back, but added that Stewart is remorseful and wanted to apologise. The court was also told he was determined to restart his business.

But Robert said: “I do not believe his apology. There’s absolutely no way anyone should employ him.

“Why doesn’t he find a different job, go pack some shelves or do something good for a change.”

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