TWO fraudsters who conned their unsuspecting victims out of inheritances and pensions through a solar panel scam have been jailed.

James Birchall failed to appear in court at any stage during a trial in which he was found guilty of multiple counts of fraud and money laundering.

Meanwhile, Peter Haddley fled the witness box midway through giving evidence to the jury.

On Friday, December 7, the pair were jailed for four years for the con following a six-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Warrington Guardian:

The court heard that the fraud concerned two companies, Manchester-based Future Energy UK and the Key Group – based on Winwick Street in the town centre.

Birchall, of St Helens, was a director of the Key Group while Haddley – previously of Poplars Avenue in Orford but now of Huyton – was involved in both companies.

Their prosecutions followed a lengthy investigation by Warrington Borough Council, which found that a total of 14 victims were enticed into purchasing solar panels with the promise of payments from electricity suppliers when they generated renewable energy.

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Sales staff advised consumers that they would be able to benefit from the government feed-in tariff when they were unable to claim these monies as the companies were not certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

The investigation also focussed on customers not being refunded deposits, providing them with fake MCS installation certificates, Birchall and Haddley making false statements on contracts that their companies were authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the fraudulent use of trade association logos.

Victims were conned out of inheritances and pensions, and took out loans to fund solar panel projects.

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The court heard that one family had been left unable to buy groceries or pay bills for their children’s activities, while another man had suffered health issues as a result of stress from the scam.

One victim said that her dying husband was left worrying about how she would be able to afford loan repayments.

Dad-of-four Haddley – who also used the aliases of Peter Davis, Peter Martin and Peter Small – absconded from the court midway through giving evidence in the trial.

He would later be found guilty of 14 counts of fraud, three charges of falsifying documents and two thefts.

The 32-year-old was previously jailed for more than three years in 2011 after being caught with more than a kilo of heroin – worth £116,000 – in Scotland, and was also fined more than £1,000 in 2015 after being caught with cocaine in the toilets of Showbar nightclub in the town centre during a work’s night out.

Thirty-six-year-old Birchall, described as being the ‘money man’ having owned numerous properties and a letting agents, did not appear in court during the trial with his whereabouts are currently unknown.

He was found guilty of eight counts of fraud, one of falsifying documents and three of money laundering in his absence.

Jailing the pair for four years apiece, judge Alan Conrad also barred Birchall and Hadley from working as company directors for 10 years.

Warrants have been issued for both of their arrests.

Sentencing, judge Conrad said: “This was a prolonged and cynical fraud designed to target decent, trusting people.

“The defendants were both experienced businessmen, but documents were made in false names and pressure was applied to the multiple victims.

“I found Peter Haddley to be manipulative, argumentative and thoroughly dishonest.

“He absconded when things were getting tough for him in the witness box, and the jury saw through his lies.

“The thefts by him were mean and reprehensible – he blamed other people and denied being responsible for his actions.

“Each of them as directors consented to and connived to frauds rendering each of them to be completely unfit to be a company director, and the effect on their victims was clear.”

THE convictions of James Birchall and Peter Haddley have been hailed as a 'real victory' for investigators.

Warrington Borough Council’s executive board member for public protection Cllr Judith Guthrie said: "This is a real victory for our trading standards team, and a great example of how their meticulous investigations are protecting people and helping bring criminals to justice.

"The acts of these men have had a huge impact on people, causing anguish and anxiety.

"I hope these verdicts will help all of the victims put the misery they have suffered behind them."

MCS chief executive Ian Rippin added: “We are delighted with the verdict of this case.

“The MCS is committed to taking the strongest action against those who bring the industry into disrepute, including those who misrepresent their status, and to support them being brought to justice.

“We are actively seeking out companies that let down consumers and the industry, and will continue to help raise awareness of cases where consumers are being duped by contractors claiming to be MCS-certified.

“Anyone considering installing renewable energy technologies can be confident of finding an MCS-certified company by searching on our website.”