Man charged over gardening scam ‘just a lackey’

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A man allegedly involved in charging a terminally-ill victim £1,750 for an hour’s gardening work was just a “lackey”, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for James Hughes, 54, claimed he only helped clear hedge cuttings during the suspected scam targeting a vulnerable man in Comber, Co Down.

Hughes, of Ballyoran Park in Portadown, Co Armagh, faces a charge of fraud by false representation over the incident on May 31.

He was granted bail but banned from any home improvement work.

Prosecutors claim rogue traders turned up at the victim’s house offering to carry out garden maintenance.

The man who lives there was described as terminally ill and caring for an elderly mother with dementia.

He wasn’t wearing glasses and mistook the callers for his regular gardener, according to the prosecution.

One of the men was said to have replied yes when asked, ‘Is that you Ivan?’.

It was claimed that the callers carried out minor gardening and maintenance for approximately an hour.

They then requested and received £1,750 in cash payment for the work.

Leaflets offering a special rate for old age pensioners were also distributed to other homes in the area, the court heard.

A phone number on those fliers is allegedly linked to Hughes’ co-accused, 43-year-old Bernard Larkin, of Artabrackagh Road in Portadown.

Crown lawyer Conor Maguire said both defendants were in a van stopped by police on the Sydenham bypass heading towards Belfast the next day.

Officers found more leaflets in the vehicle and seized £760 in cash from Larkin, a judge was told.

A bank book uncovered during searches at his home showed a £1,000 cash lodgment the previous day.

During police questioning Hughes admitted being in the Comber area delivering leaflets, but denied knowing anything about the money handed over by the alleged victim.

With Larkin admitted to bail last week, Hughes’ barrister contended that he too should be released from custody.

Michael Boyd said: “This man’s case is that he was really a helper, picking up hedge cuttings, he’s a lackey for Larkin.

“At the relevant time of demanding money he had been asked to go and sit in the van, so he wasn’t present.”

According to Mr Justice Stephens the alleged offence, if proven, involves “a despicable crime”.

Noting that no money appears to have gone into Hughes’ account, the judge ruled that he could be granted bail.

He also prohibited the accused from driving any goods vehicles or entering Comber.