Father and son chimney sweeps who planted dead pigeons in homes so they could overcharge for work have avoided prison.
Martin and Luke Price charged one elderly couple more than £5,000 for sweeping, clearing out bird nests and replacing parts – but the nests were not real and the chimney was not swept.
The court heard the Prices would become aggressive and rude when customers queried charges.
At one point, Luke Price called a woman a “b*tch” in her own home.
A sting by BBC’s Rogue Traders found Martin, 59, and Luke, 33, pocketed more than £13,000 by bringing the dead birds to customer’s homes and either planting or showing them to clients so they could say work was needed.
In March 2019, Martin Price was caught on camera planting a dead pigeon in the fireplace of an Airbnb in Windsor as son Luke looked on.
The pair were then seen on hidden cameras telling an elderly actress hired by the BBC that she needed to pay £749 for sweeping a chimney, removing nests and fitting several cowls so birds could not get in.
Another job was set up by the programme, during which the Prices were confronted by presenter Matt Allwright.
When asked about their practice of placing dead birds in chimneys, Luke Price told the presenter he was an animal lover and had fitted the cowls to stop wildlife becoming stuck in chimney flues, the court heard.
He was subsequently interviewed by Trading Standards and admitted the scam, claiming he had “given in to temptation when work was slack” and overcharged customers.
Isleworth Crown Court heard the pair worked under the name of several different companies, all with Luke Price listed as director, including Complete Chimney Care, Premier Chimney Care Limited, and London Chimney Company.
Both Luke and Martin admitted conspiracy to defraud eight people between September 2017 and April 2019.
Luke Price was given a 14 month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months and Martin Price an eight month prison sentence, also suspended for 18 months.
The court heard the most vulnerable victims were a pensioner called Norman Grossman and his wife, who had originally booked in for a chimney sweep in October 2018.
When Luke Price arrived, he told Mr Grossman several of the chimney pots required repair and showed the couple photos of a dead bird and bird’s nest they claimed to be from their chimney.
Price and another worker then spent four to five hours on the roof, after which Price took Mr Grossman to his van and told him to give his credit card details to a lady on the phone to pay £5,790.
Richard Heller, prosecuting, said: “Mr Grossman explained in an email to the company the effect that their conduct had upon him and his wife, particularly as the amount he had paid had made ‘quite a dent in our availability of funds for care’.”
It was said another serious incident involved a woman called Charlotte Smith-Oates who was quoted £48 for a chimney sweep in November 2018.
The court heard that Luke Price told her a chimney was blocked with a bird’s nest and, after going onto the roof, he told her to come upstairs and showed her a bucket of dead birds.
He claimed he had removed two nests and she needed to have five cowls fitted to stop it happening again – eventually handing her a bill for £1,892 which included £1,625 for cowls.
Mr Heller said: “Initially, Luke Price said he would reduce the cost to £1,300, but Ms Smith-Oates asked for the cowls to be removed as she couldn’t afford to pay the amount being sought.
Ms Smith-Oates felt unsafe and the pair had a stand-off for around 30 minutes in which Price refused to leave, the court heard.
She paid Price £400 as she was becoming “upset and tearful”.
Ms Smith-Oates called another company to sweep the chimney and was told the wrong cowls may have been used by Price.
She also received an email from Price demanding the rest of the £1,500 balance.
Recorder Alun Jones KC said the offending was “nasty, dishonest and unpleasant” and the pair had conducted themselves “disgracefully”.
Luke Price, of Ashford, Surrey, was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
A Proceeds of Crime hearing to determine how much compensation he will pay back to the victims will take place on a date to be fixed.
Martin Price, of Addlestone, Surrey was also ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and to pay £5,000 in prosecution costs to the London Borough of Hammersmith.
No explanation for where the dead birds came from has ever been provided by the pair.