Wigan family reveal heartache after being conned out of Â£90k by rogue builder
Victims have spoken of their years of misery after being conned out of tens of thousands of pounds by a dodgy builder employed to carry out major work to their properties.
Standish contractor Michael McDonnell was found to have accrued more than Â£227,000 in ill-gotten gains – but in a final insult last week said he could pay back only Â£10.
He was jailed last year for engaging in unfair commercial practices and banned from directorships for seven years.
But his victims are continuing to feel the impact of his actions and have spoken exclusively to the Observer about the devastation wreaked by McDonnell.
Angela and Peter Cartwright and their two young sons moved out of their home on High Moor Lane, Wrightington, in September 2015.
They had spent six years saving up enough money to pay for an extension to their property and even cashed in a pension to cover the cost.
McDonnell, who was recommended by an estate agent, told them it would take four to five months for the work to be done.
But it marked the start of years of heartache for the family, which is still not over.
They gave him Â£90,000 for the work, paying in instalments after visits by a private building control officer.
The family had some concerns, but it was only when a local builder and family friend highlighted issues with the work that they put a stop to it.
Mrs Cartwright said the house was full of mould and damp, the roof did not cover the building properly, the windows were the wrong size and none had been fitted, under-floor heating was installed too deep and there were no drains.
The house was inspected and found to be uninhabitable.
She said: “I was in disbelief. I felt a fool. I felt he had duped me and it must have been my fault.”
She was particularly concerned about her sons, Aedan and Evan, now 10 and eight.
She said: “I felt heartbroken. I felt I had let my family down. For three years, the children’s personalities have been shaped by this. We couldn’t escape it. They were sharing a bed in a two-up two-down.”
Mrs Cartwright, 52, posted what had happened on Facebook and was contacted by the girlfriend of Wigan Warriors coach-in-waiting Shaun Edwards, who said his mother Phyllis Edwards had also fallen victim to McDonnell.
She also heard from other victims and they collated their evidence and contacted trading standards and West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper.
An investigation was launched and McDonnell was jailed for 15 months last year, as well as being disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
McDonnell, 37, of Chorley Road, Standish, was convicted of engaging in unfair commercial practices in a case brought by Lancashire trading standards.
He pleaded guilty to falsely claiming membership of the National Housebuilders Federation before the trial, and admitted to unfair practice charges concerning MM Projects (UK) Ltd.
Mrs Cartwright says she was “insulted” that he claimed he could only afford to pay back Â£10 from Â£227,000 of ill-gotten gains.
Since McDonnell was uncovered, the family has spent a further Â£50,000 on work to their home, with around a further Â£20,000 of work still needed.
It has been a major financial undertaking for Mr Cartwright, an anaesthetist at Wrightington Hospital, and his wife, who spent many years working in the NHS and served as a medic in Iraq in 2003.
They had to sell a narrowboat bequeathed to Mrs Cartwright by her father and have not received any money from their insurers.
They have had walls rebuilt, windows replaced, gas and electrics done, drains fitted and foundations installed on one side of the house, with the other side yet to be done.
It has not yet passed building control, but the family decided to move in to the house two weeks ago.
The couple’s sons are particularly happy to be there, as they have their own bedrooms and can invite friends round.
Mrs Cartwright said: “This was coming up to our fourth year and we have given up fighting and decided to move in. We have tried to piece things together.”
The journey is not over for the Cartwrights, but they are looking to the future and hope other people will not have the same experience.
One of the people who contacted Mrs Cartwright was Mark Worswick, from Orrell.
He had sold his business and bought a property in Pemberton which contained two shops with offices above them.
He contacted McDonnell after a recommendation from a different estate agent and asked him to convert the offices into flats.
He was quoted Â£54,954 and work started, but major issues emerged.
For example, a toilet was installed without a cistern, the wrong size windows were fitted and central heating boilers were never supplied.
It was supposed to be a three-month project, but McDonnell spent a year there.
Mr Worswick said: “I feel rather silly. I can’t believe I have fallen for this.”
The 58-year-old had to borrow money for the work to be done, which included knocking down walls and buying central heating boilers.
He spent a further Â£45,582 getting everything done.
Both Mr Worswick and Mrs Cartwright are disappointed that McDonnell’s actions were not uncovered earlier and with the punishment he was given.
Mrs Cartwright said: “For now I feel very bitter. My children’s formative years were destroyed. I feel that the courts missed a chance to show an example.”