Warning over rogue fish sellers after 'dodgy salesman' riped off vulnerable customers
Peter Carroll, 51, of Chester-le-Street, ‘dumped bags of smelly seafood’ on victims after he and a network of other sellers under his ‘command’ used high pressure and exploitative tactics to force them into handing over their money.
And now, after a judge ordered him to repay almost £8,000, business regulators in the region have used the story to show how they are fighting back against the problem.
“One of the biggest issues Environmental Health has with doorstep crime is people knocking on your door and ripping you off is fish sellers,” said David Ellerington, trading standards manager at Newcastle City Council.
“They tend to be based in Chester-le-Street, go to the fish quays in places like Hartlepool, take the labels off and head to Leicestershire, Cheshire and other places.”
He added: “They’re quite parasitic and some of the stories are quite difficult to deal with, such as people having to buy a freezer because they’ve been sold so much fish.”
Mr Ellerington was speaking at a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Trading Standards Joint Committee.
Details of Carroll’s case were included in a report for the panel, which said he would collect ‘£1,000 orders from Hartlepool Fish Quay’ before heading out, eventually amassing a £103,182 ‘benefit from crime’.
Another example given was Adam Brown, 30, also of Chester-le-Street, who a judge told to pay compensation worth £2,624.70.
Coun Jill Fletcher, who represents Washington, told the committee her mother had been left ‘terrified’ after being targeted by rogue fish sellers and after being intimidated into writing a cheque had then been charged a bank fee to have it cancelled.
Escalating concerns over the practice have now seen a regional investigations team set up and funded by the National Trading Standards Board.
Laura Brooks, principal trading standards officer at Sunderland City Council and who has previously worked at Durham County Council, said: “Complaints are spread all over the country and all the offences are taking place miles away from County Durham.
“This has made enforcement very difficult, but we’re seeing this very good work because it has been picked up by a national enforcement team.”
‘Dodgy fish salesman’ Peter Carroll, 51, from Chester-le-Street, was convicted and sent to prison after he preyed on the vulnerable to ‘dump bags of smelly seafood on elderly customers’.
According to a report for the Tyne and Wear Trading Standards Joint Committee he used a network of other sellers under his ‘command’ to sell ‘excessive’ amounts of fish to people by cold-calling and knocking on the doors of sheltered housing and bungalows.
An investigation eventually found 27 victims who paid his firm, which traded variously as Pete’s Plaice, P Carroll’s Fisheries and P Carroll’s Fresh Fish, a total of £5,273 in areas including North and West Yorkshire between 2016 – 2017.
A customer who asked for four pieces of haddock and ended up with two carrier bags full of fish A customer who wanted £30-40 worth of fish, but was made to pay for ‘five carrier bags stuffed with surplus seafood’ An 85-year-old woman with dementia who left the house once a month An elderly man who was left feeling ‘trapped and intimidated’ after a seller blocked his door after giving him a price
The Trading Standards report added: “Customers felt upset, embarrassed, ripped off and anxious answering the door and blaming themselves. One said he ‘wanted the earth to open up and swallow him’.
In September, lawyers at teesside Crown Court agreed Carroll had collected more than £100,000 by ripping off customers and was told to pay £7,970 within three months or go to prison for another five months.
An investigation found five different company names Adam Brow, 30, of Chester-le-Street, traded under while selling fish door-to-door to the elderly and vulnerable.
As well as attempting to pass off frozen fish as fresh or deliver ‘excessive quantities’ he would also try to trick his victims into higher payments by ‘obscuring the total or tilting the card machine away from the consumer’.
Brown was given a Criminal Behaviour Order which bans him from selling fish and making unsolicited calls at people’s homes for the next five years.
According to the Trading Standards report: “He was sentenced to a 20-week custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months, at Newcastle Crown Court and ordered to pay £2,624.70 in compensation, which will cover the monies lost by all seven victims involved in the case.”