‘I had faith in him’ says 85-year-old victim of rogue builder Paul Gaffney

Inquest hears man, 27, wrecked Gosport shop after taking drugs and becoming paranoid

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WITH a long career as an architect Peter Bolt was used to dealing with building works.

And the charm and helpful nature of Paul Gaffney, who knocked on Mr Bolt’s door offering to do work on his windows, set him at ease.

Peter Bolt

Peter Bolt

However, within weeks Gaffney had persuaded Mr Bolt, 85, to part with more than £35,000 for work he failed to do at his Delamere Road home.

Mr Bolt was just one of 18 victims of 51-year-old rogue trader Gaffney who is starting a nine-year sentence for fraud and theft following a two-year crime spree targeting elderly vulnerable victims, whom he conned out of £105,000.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard yesterday that his modus operandi was to offer to do odd jobs for little or nothing and then ‘uncover’ major works that he said the victims needed doing urgently.

In two cases he drove the victims to their banks to withdraw large sums of money.

Paul Gaffney

Paul Gaffney

Judge Sarah Munro QC heard that in April this year, while he was already on bail for 18 charges of fraud, he drove Mr Bolt to his bank to withdraw yet another huge amount of cash.

But quick-thinking bank staff called the police and police were waiting for Gaffney when he turned up at Mr Bolt’s Southsea home the next day.

Mr Bolt said: ‘I was shocked when the police came round to see me.

‘None of the work had been done but I had faith in him that he’d do it.

‘But, when I added it all up, I realised I’d given him a huge amount of money.

‘And when you hear all the evidence that he had conned so many people in such an awful way, and deprived people of their life savings and probably caused them nervous breakdowns, I’m very relieved to think he’s got such a large sentence.

‘Hopefully he will never ever do such things again.’

Gaffney would offer to fix electrics, boilers, windows and roofs despite having only painting and decorating qualifications.

And most victims were neighbours from the streets surrounding his Park Grove home, in Cosham.

Gaffney went back again and again to the same vulnerable victims – many of whom had been proud professionals who felt humiliated and violated by his callous acts.

The toll on some of the victims has been almost too much to bear.

Two elderly friends, who met at church, say their health and confidence has suffered.

An 80-year-old widower from Dean Road, Cosham, was conned out of £24,000 for work to his roof.

The great-grandfather blames himself for recommending Gaffney to a female friend in Outram Road, Southsea who handed over £1,500 for work that was never done.

Both their roofs suffered damage in last November’s storms.

He said: ‘I was in the forces and I have seen terrible things but nothing has affected me this badly.

‘Really, I am responsible for what happened to my friend too. I can’t sleep more than four hours a night.

‘When it first happened I had to go to the doctors and she prescribed tranquillisers. I’m so ashamed of that.

‘I went deaf for three days and my doctor said it was probably down to my nerves. I haven’t told a soul about this apart from my friend.’

His friend, an 81-year-old widow, said Gaffney haunts her dreams to this day, and had put her and her friend through sheer hell.

When police searched Gaffney’s shed, at his home in Park Grove, Cosham, they found the victim’s passport and $1,000 she was saving to give to her granddaughter in America.

‘I have nightmares where he is in my house, I run for help, come back and he has cleared everything out,’ she said.

‘It took a lot of time and money to get my visa to visit my granddaughter in America and he took that too. Now I don’t have the confidence to go over there. The thing is, he was so plausible. At Christmas he gave us a huge piece of Christmas cake because he said we were good customers.’

The court heard that the crime spree began in March 2012 when Gaffney approached next-door neighbour Terry Roberts to say he was having some work done on his roof and if they both had it done together it would work out cheaper.

Mr Roberts, who is elderly and suffers ill-health, agreed and handed over more than £3,000. He had scaffolding at the front of his house for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Gaffney had taken a large chunk out of the roof, exposing it to the elements.

Mr Roberts and his wife had to spend their life savings putting it right.

Other victims had to take out loans to fix the damage he had caused.

In his defence, barrister Paul Barton said Gaffney, a married father of three, had an addiction to betting machines.

Earlier this month he made a full admission of his guilt but Judge Munro was scathing in her sentencing.

She said: ‘A case such as this instils in the public feelings of horror, disgust and fear – and rightly so.

‘Your only qualification is as a painter and decorator.

‘However you are a plausible and devious conman and used your charm and your good character to trick a very significant number of vulnerable and elderly, some very elderly, people.

‘Many of them are retired professionals and many of them expressed their surprise they were duped by you despite their own intelligence and backgrounds.’

She said Gaffney’s neighbour, Mr Roberts, had suffered a ‘year of hell’ and added: ‘Some of your victims were in their 90s with ill health and disabled.

‘You deprived them of their hard-earned sums of money.’

The crimes Paul Gaffney admitted

1) Fraud – March 2012, Park Grove, Cosham, £3,014

2) Fraud – September 2012, Brightstone Road, Cosham, £1,120

3) Fraud – October 2012, Park Grove, Cosham, £2,100

4) Fraud – November 2012, The Shrubbery, Cosham, £7,363

5) Fraud – December 2012, The Shrubbery, Cosham, £3,003

6) Fraud – February 2013, Knowsley Road, Cosham, £6,345

7) Fraud – April 2013, Lower Drayton Lane, £1,610

8) Aggressive commercial practice (driving victim to bank) April 2013

9) Fraud – April to May 2013, Knowsley road, Cosham, £1,480

10) Fraud – from May to June 2013, Bushy Mead, £3,996

11) Fraud – July 2013, Hawthorne Crescent, £9,851

12) Fraud – July 2013, Lonsdale Avenue, £990

13) Fraud – July 2013, Chatsworth Avenue, £2,300

14) Aggressive commercial practice (driving victim to bank) July 2013

15) Fraud – July 2013, Knowsley Road, £505

16) Fraud – November 2013 to January 2014, Dean Road, £24,000

17) Fraud – November 2013 to January 2014, Outram Road, £1,500

18) Fraud – January 2014, St Bartholemew Gardens, £1,200

19) Fraud – April 2014, Delamere Road, Southsea, £35,000

20) Theft – January 2014