Businessman jailed for 30 months in solar panel scam

People across the southwest, including Devon, were scammed when buying solar panels – and now a businessman has been sentenced to 30 months in jail and banned from being a company director for six years for his part.

At Exeter Crown Court on Friday March 19 Mark McCracken, 44, of Hestercombe Close, Bridgwater, Somerset was sentenced following an investigation by the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service.

At a previous hearing McCracken had pleaded guilty to deceiving customers and telling them that his company, Intelligent Solar Limited, and his installers, were registered under solar power certification schemes when they were not.

He also pleaded guilty to giving financial advice when he was not registered and for acting for a company while still an undischarged bankrupt.

His former business partner Paula McGarel, 54, of Bideford, Devon had also previously pleaded guilty for failing to return customer deposits and for charging fees when customers tried to cancel. 

McGarel will be sentenced at a later date. Intelligent Solar Limited operated from Taunton and then Torquay from 2015 to 2017, selling solar PV panels to consumers and arranging for their installation.

One of their selling points was that customers, with ‘eligible’ solar PV, could claim payments from the government, called Feed-in Tariffs, for energy created.

One of the sales pitches was that the installations ‘would pay for themselves.’ However, despite McCracken’s claims, Intelligent Solar Limited was not signed up to the Renewable Energy Consumer Code, a pre-condition to enable customers to claim these payments.

The court heard that McCracken’s previous businesses had been removed from the RECC scheme and Intelligent Solar Ltd. was never admitted. 

The claims misled consumers into believing that they would receive these payments and when customers tried to cancel contracts, these were denied, or unjustified fees were levied.

After initially giving the business advice about their obligations Trading Standards, continued to receive complaints and in May 2017 obtained a warrant to search their premises in Torquay.

A financial investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act will now be carried out to find any assets that might be used to pay compensation to the victims.

During sentencing Judge David Evans remarked that McCraken ‘had shown a glimmer of genuine remorse…(but) it was more self-pitying than anything else’ ,and that he ‘had only pleaded guilty when faced with overwhelming evidence’.

Sharon Anderson, Group Manager Intelligence and Investigations for Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service said:

“This was a long and complex investigation. It’s right that consumers should be eager to embrace renewable energy, but we all have to be aware that there are unscrupulous traders out there who will exploit new markets and systems and consumers should take care to avoid them. Always research the technology as thoroughly as you can and seek independent advice where it is available.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Recovery and Skills said: “

“I support any homeowner who wishes to reduce their energy costs or carbon footprint through new technology, though the installation of solar panels, heat pumps or through retrofitting their homes for instance.

“However this case also shows the importance of taking care when employing traders. We recommend that you seek a range of quotes and check out testimonials and trade memberships. Trading Standards have their own trader approval scheme Buy With Confidence and we audit the traders who are members to ensure they comply with consumer law.”

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