Two couples find out their £750k homes are WORTHLESS after company commits fraud

The Hungerford houses are currently worthless. Stock image of  home, money and soil. <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
The Hungerford houses are currently worthless. Stock image of home, money and soil. (Image: Newsquest)

TWO couples discovered their £750k homes are worthless after the director of a house building company committed fraud.

Waddington Forbes Ltd built two homes on land north of Hungerford where there used to be a chemical fertilizer factory.

Directors William Forbes and Daniel Waddington came to learn the soil the homes were built on was contaminated with lead and needed to be replaced.

However, Forbes sent a false soil sample to the National House Building Council (NHBC) pretending the work had been done and sold the homes for £805,000 and £705,000 in 2018.

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It preyed on Mr Waddington’s conscious and he reported Forbes to the police in late 2019 when the families who bought the homes came to learn they were worthless until the soil was replaced.

Forbes, 73, of Westwood Green in Cookham, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation and was jailed for 27 months yesterday (March 23).

At Reading Crown Court, prosecutor Christopher Wing said construction of the homes had already began before the company were made aware of the contamination.

A stop order was made halfway through building while the soil was tested. It transpired that the lead in the soil ranged from 33mg of lead per kg of soil to 1,732mg of lead per kg of soil.

The guideline is 157mg of lead per kg of soil.

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Mr Wing explained that the top 600ml of soil would need to be removed, a lining would need to be placed down and then new soil replaced on top.

A soil sample needed to be sent to NHBC to prove the soil was safe but instead of doing the remedial work, Forbes collected a sample from a flower bed with soil from another source and sent it off.

Mr Wing said: “The effect is the houses [the owners] have bought are worthless as they cannot be sold due to the contamination.

“Before the houses can be sold the remedial work for the contaminated soil must be carried out.”

It is predicted the remedial work could take about 12 months to be completed and cost anywhere from £350k to £692k.

John Lyons, defending Forbes, said: “He feels a great deal of sympathy to the householders. He’s got no previous convictions, he’s had an industrious and well respected career as a pilot and it’s a great shame for him and his family that he finds himself at this advanced age before the court for the first time.”

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Sentencing, Judge Heather Norton said she had read victim statements from the two families and the impact the fraud has had on them.

“These statements were written in April and May 2021,” she said. “Two further years have passed by in which they know not only is there going to be substantial remedial work which will be a massive inconvenience that will incur, they also know they have been and still are living in houses with contaminated soil.

“That must have caused them untold mental anguish.”

She sentenced Forbes to 27 months imprisonment of which he will serve half of before being released on licence.

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The resident judge added that she was ‘extremely dissatisfied’ that more work hadn’t been done to clarify specifically how much financial loss has been caused by the fraud in order to categorise the seriousness of the offence.

The matter of how much the remedial works will cost and who will pay for them will now be referred to civil courts.