A landscape gardener who cheated clients out of thousands of pounds is free to run another business in the same line of business after being spared jail.
John Dunn pocketed £24,000 for a job he didn’t do, leaving three people who paid his company, MED Landscapes, out of pocket and angry. When someone later saw him get out of his Range Rover and confronted him, he was dismissive and just said “It’s business, these things happen”.
As Dunn, 36, of Town Square, Wallsend, was convicted of three counts of theft, a judge said he would be given the opportunity to prove his claim he wanted to ‘earn an honest living’ by releasing him a suspended prison sentence. .
Read more: Whitley Bay nursing home boss who robbed residents jailed for ‘grotesque breach of trust’
Newcastle Crown Court heard the offenses relating to Dunn’s activities as a sole proprietor in 2019 when he presented himself as a landscape gardener. Andrew Walker, prosecuting, said: ‘He stole money from victims who were persuaded to part with several thousand pounds as bail and part payment for materials and labour.’
The first victim, a woman from Forest Hall, North Tyneside, noticed he was working nearby and asked for a quote for work on his large garden. A price of £18,000 was agreed and she paid him half as a deposit.
Five days later, he told her that he would have to delay the work due to the weather, but that he would keep in touch. Two months later, she was still waiting and her attempts to contact him by text and phone failed.
She started researching online and discovered that a Facebook page for the company no longer existed, then a Google search revealed complaints about Dunn by other people and she realized that the police had been contacted. The woman said she had been trying to prepare for retirement and wanted to make the garden maintenance-free for medical reasons. She said the theft caused stress, a lack of trust in other workers and put major events like her daughter’s wedding on hold. She added that the money was eventually refunded through her bank.
The second victim, a man who lives west of Newcastle, was cited £20,000 and paid Dunn £10,000 as bail and for materials. But on the day the works were to start the victim asked him what time he would be reporting and got no response and when he called he received a recorded message saying the number was gone available.
The victim did his own research online and found various addresses related to Dunn. He went to one in Wallsend and spoke to Dunn’s mother, who said he didn’t live there. He went to another in Seghill, Northumberland, but there was no response. Later, he received an email from Dunn saying he was living in Spain and his company had gone into liquidation.
The third victim, from Newcastle, received a quote for £8,000 for landscaping work and posted £4,000 bail the same day. Dunn started the work, but then demanded more money and got an extra £2,665. But he didn’t show up afterwards to finish the job.
After several attempts to contact him, Dunn finally claimed that he was in Spain because his brother was sick but would return but he didn’t. A few weeks later, the victim saw Dunn get out of a Range Rover onto private plates in Tynemouth and confronted him in a bar or restaurant. He replied “It’s a business, these things happen” and claimed the company had folded and he would file for bankruptcy, although checks showed he had not. The victim ended up having to pay someone else to help complete the work.
The victim, who lost £5,000 as work was carried out, said he felt “annoyed, angry and frustrated”. Dunn was arrested at Newcastle Airport as he was about to fly to Tenerife on Christmas Eve 2019.
Dunn pleaded guilty to three counts of theft and received a nine-month suspended sentence of 12 months with 150 hours of unpaid work. He had been remanded in custody for two months after failing to appear at a previous hearing, which he said he was unaware of.
He admitted the theft on the grounds that he was running a legitimate business, but was incompetent and “under-quoting” and ended up using money from one contract to pay others and resorted to alcohol and drugs due to financial pressures.
The court heard Dunn, who was previously convicted of dishonesty, then set up a company doing similar work, called Phoenix Groundworks and Landscaping NE. Recorder Andrew Smith said: “Ironically you are now trading as a company as Phoenix. I don’t think the irony is lost on you.”
The judge added: “You are saying that you are an honest businessman and want to earn an honest living. You have the opportunity to prove that to be the case.”
Richard Bloomfield, defending, said being in prison had been a “salutary lesson” and that Dunn did not want to go back because it brought shame on him and his family.