COWARDLY Derek Hepple ripped off his elderly customers by charging them extortionate prices for his cheap security products.
The callous company boss preyed on pensioners’ fears, fleecing them out of their savings to fund his own luxury lifestyle.
Hepple, who is today beginning a four-and-a-half year jail term:
* Charged elderly customers up to £1,500 for a smoke alarm - when the fire service fits them for free;
* Splashed out £250,000 on houses, holidays and luxuries;
* Repeatedly charged an 88-year-old Wearsider for work;
* Fleeced more than £18,000 from a Durham customer
Hepple ran his security business, Night and Day, from premises on Front Street, Concord, Washington.
Newcastle Crown Court heard once the conman had customers’ card details, he would help himself to cash from their accounts.
Some victims lost almost £19,000, while others had been charged as much as £1,500 for a simple smoke alarm.
While fleecing his clients, Hepple paid no tax or VAT.
The 44-year-old, of Kingsway, Houghton, admitted conspiracy to defraud 15 victims.
Judge Richard Lowden jailed Hepple – who served a jail term for a similar scam – for four years and eight months.
“The victims of Night and Day were, in obvious ways, vulnerable,” he said.
“That allowed you to get into and underneath their defences so they could be conned in the way you conned them.”
Salesmen Stuart Robinson, 30, of The Wynd, Chester-le-Street, was jailed for eight months; and Kenneth Reed, 56, of Whitehill, Gateshead, were jailed for six months after also admitting conspiracy to defraud.
The court heard one 77-year-old victim, from South Shields, paid £18,614 to have her home protected – more than 20 times higher than expected for a suitable system.
An 88-year-old from Sunderland was repeatedly charged for the same work, which was overpriced in the first place.
A 76-year-old widowed stroke victim, from County Durham, ended up £18,986 out of pocket after she initially paid for overpriced work and transactions continued to be taken out of her account after her bill was paid.
Pensioners in Scotland and the south of England were also caught up in the scam.
The court heard the expert who reviewed the company’s work on behalf of the police said the firm was a “disgrace to the security industry”.
Christopher Knox, defending Hepple, said there was no “high living” and the £250,000 spending spree was over a four-year period of the fraud up to 2010.
James Adkin, for Reed, said his client’s dishonesty happened between three and five years ago and related to just four clients and £3,480.
Paul Cross, for Robinson, said his client’s dishonesty was over four clients and £8,000.
Mr Cross said: “He was dependent on Hepple for his job, this was not his own idea.”
After the hearing, Detective Constable Roger Butler, who led the investigation said: “This is a despicable crime.
“Hepple and his employees have, through the guise of an alarm business, deliberately targeted some of their elderly customers to make vast gain.
“Hepple has been driven by greed and continued to reoffend beyond a horrendous similar previous conviction.
“This type of fraud and doorstep crime in general will not be tolerated and every effort will be made to prosecute those responsible.”