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Wallsend landscape gardener who fleeced customers out of thousands freed to work in same trade

A landscape gardener who fleeced customers out of thousands of pounds is free to run another business in the same line of work after being spared prison.

John Dunn pocketed £24,000 for work which he didn't do, leaving three people who paid his firm, MED Landscapes, out of pocket and angry. When one later spotted him getting out of his Range Rover and confronted him, he was dismissive and just told him "It's business, these things happen".

As Dunn, 36, of Town Square, Wallsend, was sentenced for three counts of theft, a judge said he would give him the chance to prove his claim that he wants to "earn an honest living" by releasing him on a suspended prison sentence.

Read more: Whitley Bay care home boss who stole from residents jailed for 'grotesque breach of trust'

Newcastle Crown Court heard the offences relate to Dunn's activities as a sole trader in 2019, when he was advertising himself as a landscape gardener. Andrew Walker, prosecuting, said: "He stole money from victims who were persuaded to part with many thousands of pounds as deposits and part payment for materials and work."

The first victim, a woman in Forest Hall, North Tyneside, noticed he had been working nearby and requested a quote for work in her large garden. A price of £18,000 was agreed and she paid him half as a deposit.

Five days later he told her he would have to delay the work due to the weather but would be in touch. Two months later she was still waiting and her attempts to contact him by text and phone failed.

She began researching online and found a Facebook page for the firm no longer existed then a Google search revealed complaints about Dunn by other people and she realised the police had been contacted. The woman said she had been trying to prepare for retirement and wanted to make the garden maintenance-free for medical reasons. She said the theft caused stress, a lack of trust in other workmen and hung over major events like her daughter's wedding. She added that the money was eventually repaid through her bank.

The second victim, a man who lives in the west of Newcastle, was quoted £20,000 and paid Dunn £10,000 by way of deposit and for materials. But on the day the work was due to start, the victim asked him what time he would be attending and got no reply and when he rang him he got a recorded message saying the number was no longer available.

The victim made his own inquiries online and found various addresses linked to Dunn. He went to one in Wallsend and spoke to Dunn's mother, who said he didn't live there. He went to another in Seghill, Northumberland,but there was no answer. He later got an email from Dunn saying he was living in Spain and his company had gone into liquidation.

The third victim, from Newcastle, was quoted £8,000 for some landscaping work and paid a £4,000 deposit the same day. Dunn did make a start with the work but then demanded more money and got a further £2,665. But he then failed to show up to complete the work.

After repeated attempts to contact him, Dunn eventually claimed he was in Spain because his brother was ill but would return but he didn't. Some weeks later, the victim saw Dunn getting out of a Range Rover on private plates in Tynemouth and confronted him in a bar or restaurant. He replied "It's business, these things happen" and claimed the business had folded and that he would declare himself bankrupt, although checks showed he has not done so. The victim ended up having to pay someone else to help complete the work.

The victim, who lost £5,000 given some work was done, said he was left feeing "annoyed, angered and frustrated". Dunn was arrested at Newcastle Airport as he was about to fly to Tenerife, on Christmas Eve 2019.

Dunn pleaded guilty to three counts of theft and was sentenced to nine months suspended for 12 months with 150 hours unpaid work. He had been remanded in custody for two months after failing to show up to an earlier hearing, which he said he didn't know about.

He admitted the theft on the basis he was running a legitimate company but was incompetent and "under-quoting" and ended up using the money from one contract to pay off others and resorted to drink and drugs due to financial pressures.

The court heard Dunn, who has previous convictions for dishonesty, went on to set up a firm doing similar work, called Phoenix Groundworks and Landscaping NE. Recorder Andrew Smith said: "Ironically you are now trading as a business under the name Phoenix. I don't think the irony is lost on you."

The judge added: "You say you are an honest businessman and want to earn an honest living. You have got the opportunity to prove that is the case."

Richard Bloomfield, defending, said being in prison had been a "salutary lesson" and Dunn doesn't want to go back as it had brought shame on him and his family.

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