A COWBOY builder who conned his victims out of more than £86,000 has been sentenced to two years and three months in prison after a judge at Truro Crown Court heard how his actions had devastated their lives.

James Lee Knight, aged 44, of Reawla Lane, Reawla, Hayle advertised for building works via Facebook under the names of Jay Knight or Jay Knight Masonry.

Falmouth Packet:

James Lee Knight was sentenced to two year three months in prison

But from January 2017 and September 2020 he persuaded at least eight homeowners to pay for repairs or extension works that he failed to finish. Most of the work he did undertake was of such a poor standard that it needed to be re-done by other firms.

On February 3, 2021 Knight appeared at Truro Crown Court where he admitted nine offences of fraud, one offence of theft and one of criminal damage.

At Truro Crown Court where he appeared for sentencing today, Recorder Simon Levene was told how Knight had ruined the lives of many of his victims with some paying him over £28,000 for work that was never completed.

Gregory Gordon, prosecutor for Cornwall Council, told Mr Levene, that much of the remedial work had taken a considerable amount of effort and an emotional cost as well as financial cost on the victims. A number of the them are still in a rather terrible position in relation to their properties.

Falmouth Packet:

The shoddy work he carried out

Outlining the 11 offences outlined the offences, he said his first victim was quoted £26,000 to build an extension. He began to bring his dogs to the site and spent significant time walking them and doing the school run. When confronted he failed to return. He left the first floor of the property precariously propped up with wooden boards and breeze blocks. The children's bedroom was left unsafe and they were forced to sleep for over a month on their parents' bedroom floor.

"The extension was for their children," said Mr Gordon. "It was supposed to be their forever home that they had bought and anticipated handing it on to their children when they passed and now they are stuck in a house they do not want to be home."

Knight eventually admitted he couldn't complete the work and Mr Ferris took legal action but still no refund. As a result he had paid Knight £6,250. Much of his work had to be demolished and it was found that raw sewage was leaking from the pipework.

The second case in 2017, a woman paid over £5,000 of a £8,500 contract to Knight Demolish a lean-to and build a small two storey extension. But he started turning up with his girlfriend and their children, then didn't turn up at all and made excuses or didn't have the equipment, eventually leaving a poor standard cracked sewage pipe.

Falmouth Packet:

The shoddy work he carried out

He rented a Ford Mondeo from MY Motors and failed to make most of the payments eventually returning it and leaving it in a lane behind the business and the keys in a hedge. The vehicle was in a disgusting state covered in maggots and fleas and the car and was badly damaged.

A woman suffering leaks in her home was quoted £280 to fix it by Knight but she said he was 'ill equipped and inept' in his workmanship and she told him not come back she would finish job herself. Knight asked for payment saying the job was 90% done. She paid him but later found the work had potentially caused damage to the property

A single mother who wanted to convert her garage into a bedsit to help with her finances was quoted £6,500 and paid Knight £4,250. He rarely turned up, only worked small number of hours left work unfinished exposed to elements and insecure. The garage door was removed and the property was exposed, flooring had bent timbers, no insulation, no damp proofing, windows not level. It had to be stripped out she took out high cost loan to pay for it. She had to move out and rent out the family home and live with her parents to make enough money to put the property right.

Falmouth Packet:

Another example of the shoddy work he carried out

Another woman paid £1,750 to Knight to install a lintel and other work, but he failed to do a proper job and failed to turn up. She even gave him additional money for lunch for him and his labourers to encourage him to finish the job. The lintels remain on front path where they were delivered by builder's merchant.

An elderly couple paid £19,500 to Knight to build an extension and £10,000 to rectify the work he had done, a total of £28, 416.88.

After initial good progress he stopped turning up, gave excuses, brought his girlfriend onto site then stopped turning up making it clear not going to do the work.

In an impact statement to the court they said: "Our garden and home are destroyed and violated. He took advantage of our age and perceived vulnerability. He saw us as a cash machine."

He also stole insulation boards they had paid for and offered them for sale on Lets' Flog It Cornwall.

A full-time foster carer paid £1,650 of a £4,500 contract to remove the roof and windows of her conservatory, to provide a better play place for her children. He again brought his girlfriend saying she was a labourer. he had no proper tools. He removed roof but she was so horrified by the standard of the building work she told him not to do any more work and it had to be demolished. R

Another victim paid over £23,330 to Knight to build extension to a bought property in Cornwall intending to move into it once it was completed to be nearer her family.

The defendant gave excuses for not attending. When she visited she was absolutely horrified at state of the building which was now uninhabitable with rubble everywhere She asked the defendant to leave and not return. A building control inspector said the work should be demolished. She is approaching 70 and has only a small pension to live on. She was totally taken in by defendant to borrow money. She fears she will have to spend rest of her life paying it off.

Representing Knight, Ramsay Quaife said the defendant's father was unwell and suffering with a variation of motor neurone disease with the defendant caring for him.

"He continues to work as a bricklayer and has pretty much sorted himself out,” he said

Sentencing Knight to two years three months in prison, recorder Levene said Knight should have stuck to bricklaying: "Essentially you were a dishonest builder who took his clients for a ride, got a lot of money off them and did a really terrible job."

He added: "I take into account the very long lasting effect of your fraud on your clients. If you had stolen their money but left the house in a beautiful condition that would have been a different kind of offences all together. All I need to do is look at the cost of the fraud to your victims the effects of your workmanship to see how serious your fraud is."