A trader who cost customers more than £500,000 for bad building work, putting one through “sheer hell”, is behind bars today.

Christopher Newman, 41, overpromised and underdelivered on work by his company Hartburn Lofts and Extensions Ltd, leaving renovations which were shoddy, incomplete, unnecessary or beset by delays and problems over a two-year period, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Customers lost life savings and inheritance money and worried about losing their homes as they endured a “nightmare”.

People across Teesside and into Yorkshire, County Durham and Sunderland told how he did not complete work as promised and gave them lies, excuses, false claims and promises.Darlington and Stockton Times: An example of the poor work done by Christopher Newman\'s Hartburn Lofts and Extensions Ltd

They told of the “unforgivable” upset, worry, pressure, frustration, exhaustion, financial hardship, the impact on their health, time off work with stress or depression, and strained relationships and marriages.

Prosecutor John Crawford said Newman was paid a total of £524,998 while carrying out incompetent work over a prolonged period. He said there was pressure on victims to make large down-payments, “constant delays, lies and excuses” and “family lives ruined and put on hold for significant periods of time”.

He said work to lofts, extensions, garages, demolition, home improvement and renovations started late and dragged on far beyond promised timescales between 2017 and 2019. Faults, damage and issues emerged with roofs, drains, plumbing, electrics, boilers, flooring, plastering, windows, brickwork, foundations, stairs and scaffolding, the court was told on Friday (December 8).Darlington and Stockton Times: An example of the poor work done by Christopher Newman\'s Hartburn Lofts and Extensions Ltd

Newman, of no fixed address, carried on offending after trading standards contacted him about complaints, and the case was held up for years as he did not turn up at court. He was at large for two years before giving himself up in February 2022, then was arrested and remanded in custody in January this year.

He admitted four charges of fraud and 10 of breaching unfair trading regulations. He wrote in a letter to the court: “I know I’ve let people down and I’m so sorry that I’ve let everything go so badly wrong.

“I’m so sorry for the pain and hurt I’ve caused. I take full responsibility for it.

“All I want is to repay what I owe and apologise to the people I’ve let down, support my family and work as hard as I can. I would do absolutely anything asked of me to try to put things right.”

Chris Morrison, defending, said Newman was not manipulative or motivated by “naked and cynical greed” but a family man who made poor decisions and embarked on a “flurry of activity” trying to work his way out of trouble. He said Newman built up a successful business through recommendations and started losing control with bereavements and difficulties with suppliers, materials, finances and a county court case.Darlington and Stockton Times: An example of the poor work done by Christopher Newman\'s Hartburn Lofts and Extensions Ltd

He said the joiner took on too much trying to “salvage the unsalvageable”. He added: “He’s a man who was proud, who didn’t want to lose face, who didn’t want his business to go under, has got himself into a situation he couldn’t control and behaved in an exceedingly wrong manner. He was chasing his tail.”

Now he said Newman made a public, sincere apology and, despite the liquidation of his company, wanted to “put the sweat of his brow to proper use” and in prison gained a trusted position and was a “good role model”.

Judge Paul Watson KC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, told Newman: “The work is characterised by overpromise and under-delivery. They were promised everything by you and that it would all work out. Of course it didn’t. Work was either not completed or completed inadequately.”Darlington and Stockton Times: An example of the poor work done by Christopher Newman\'s Hartburn Lofts and Extensions Ltd

He accepted it started out as a bona fide business but Newman ended up “over-trading” as he tried to maintain a failing firm: “It doesn’t diminish the seriousness of these offences very much, because in each case you were lying, deceiving or at the very least mis-selling the capacity of your company to deliver on contracts.”

Newman was jailed for four years and eight months and banned from being a company director for five years.

Councillor Norma Stephenson, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for access, communities and community safety, said: “We welcome this sentence handed out to Mr Newman today, whose simply unacceptable behaviour has impacted the lives of innocent victims in our borough and beyond, leaving them thousands of pounds out of pocket.

This sentence should be a stark warning to other traders that they must take their legal obligations seriously, otherwise they will very likely find themselves before the court.

“Thank you once again to our Trading Standards team, who have investigated this case so diligently and robustly. And should you ever need to contact the Trading Standards team, they can be reached by calling 01642 526560 or by emailing trading.standards@stockton.gov.uk.”