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Vulnerable pensioner pressured to withdraw cash

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A VULNERABLE pensioner was subjected to a frightening ordeal after two men supposed to be carrying out work on his house forced him to get into their van, before driving him to three towns in an attempt to withdraw money to pay them for work not yet carried out.

36-year-old Edmund Lee, of Ty Gwyn, Whitland, pleaded guilty to engaging in an aggressive commercial practice when he appeared before magistrates in Haverfordwest this week. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide the complainant – a man in his sixties – with notice of his right to cancel their contract.

His cousin Benjamin Lee, 21, of St Clears, pleaded guilty to a charge of contravening the requirements of professional diligence. The offences were all committed between March 31 and April 10 of last year.

Prosecuting on behalf of Pembrokeshire County Council, Jeff Harries explained that complainant lived alone in the Tenby area. He required daily care as a result of ongoing medical issues, and was unable to read or write.

The court heard that the money was ostensibly to pay for power-washing garden paths and guttering and a garden clearance, and the total sum involved was £732.

The complainant’s bank records showed that, in addition to his regular weekly cash withdrawal, he took out sums of money on three occasions – £182 in Tenby on March 31, £450 from the same bank on April 6, and £100 from the Carmarthen branch of HSBC on April 8. Due to his literacy issues, the complainant was only able to withdraw money with help from bank staff.

“He states that he was approached on a number of occasions between March 31 and April 10,” Mr Harries added.

On April 8, he was standing at a bus stop waiting to visit family when the Lees pulled up in a van. He was told to get in and made of trips to banks in the Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carmarthen areas. The first two were closed, and he eventually managed to withdraw £100 from Carmarthen HSBC – the maximum he could take out due to lack of id. He was told to meet the complainants at the former Playhouse with more money, or they would visit him at a later date to collect it.

The police received a complaint from a member of the victim’s family on April 8 after he told them about the money. Police spoke to him on April 9, and he ‘appeared anxious and concerned’ that the men could return.

As a result, when Benjamin Lee knocked on the complainant’s door on April to it was answered by a police officer. Lee then ran away, but returned after answering a phone call from police on the complainant’s phone.

In interview, Edmund Lee said that he had been posting flyers advertising his business in the area on March 31 when he saw the defendant walking near his house. They then agreed a price to do some work.

Benjamin Lee made no comment except to confirm that he had not been present when his cousin agreed the contract with the complainant on March 31.

“There are no mitigating features, only aggravating ones,” Mr Harries commented.

“The complainant would simply obey their orders, jump in the van and go to the nearest bank.

“He would sit in the middle between the two defendants – I can only imagine how intimidating that must have been.”

Representing Edmund Lee, Gavin Rofer said that the defendant had ‘simply been unaware’ that he had to provide written cancellation rights, and added that due to his own inability to read or write, Lee was unaware of many small trader regulations.

Mr Rofer said that Lee had been insistent on checking that the complainant had the money because customers had failed to pay him before. “Perhaps in an abundance of caution he offered to take him to the bank for the money,” he added, stressing that Lee was unaware at the time that this could have appeared aggressive to a person in the complainant’s situation.

Representing Benjamin Lee, Mike Kelleher drew attention to his minor role in events, as someone in effect hired by his cousin to clean the guttering, and pointed out that had he not run a similar business of his own he would not have been liable for prosecution.

Edmund Lee was fined £900, and ordered to pay a total of £1,840 in costs and compensation.

Benjamin Lee was given a £250 fine and ordered to pay £250 compensation and £780 towards costs.

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Police release new CCTV image of murder suspect

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE has released a new CCTV image of Steve Baxter, who detectives are keen to speak to in connection with the murder of Simon Clark from Pendine, Carmarthenshire.

The image was captured in Glynneath on Saturday, September 29. He is believed to have traveled to the west Wales area shortly afterwards and is believed to be in the Haverfordwest area.

Baxter, also known as Steve Tidy, Steve Rowley, Wayne Tidy or William Tidy, is aged 52, 5’5” (1.65cm) tall and has tattoos on his forearms – the name Chez and entwined circles on his left arm and a serpent on his right arm.

He is bald, but was last seen wearing a hat and wig, as shown in this image. He may have made other attempts to alter his appearance such as growing facial hair or wearing glasses.

Detective Superintendent Huw Davies said: “We’re releasing this CCTV image from the latest confirmed sighting of Steve Baxter to give people the most up to date example of how he may be dressed and how he may currently look.

“Time is passing and we really need to speak to Steve Baxter to build a more accurate picture of what happened in Pendine.

“To anyone that may know where he is, please pass this vital information to police.”

The independent charity Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to Steve Baxter being found. Information would be taken by the charity anonymously.

If you see Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 999.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 101 immediately.

To pass on information anonymously, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or through the non-traceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Carmarthenshire counting the cost of Storm Callum recovery

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CARMARTHENSHIRE is beginning to count the cost of the clean-up that is needed to get the county back on track after Storm Callum.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were affected by the worst flooding seen in the area for over 30 years, and whilst a clear picture is yet to emerge about the true cost of the recovery, Carmarthenshire County Council said it will take millions to put right.

It is now calling on the Welsh Government to assist.

An initial assessment estimates that £3million will be needed to repair highway infrastructure alone, although all bridges and roads – other than the A484 at Cwmduad which was closed due to a landslide – have been re-opened.

The council set up an immediate flood recovery relief fund of £100,000 to support residents whose homes were damaged, offering a £200 advance to anyone in need, and offering practical help to people by collecting damaged furniture and household items, support to complete insurance claims, electrical safety testing, and in some cases temporary accommodation.

It is also working with Xcel Furniture in Carmarthen to appeal for donations of household items to help those affected get back on their feet.

Officers visited over 100 businesses in affected areas on Monday and is continuing to support them, including around 40 businesses who will be applying for grant support from an additional £200,000 fund established to assist businesses.

Leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “Over the last few days our teams have visited hundreds of people and businesses to let them know that help is at hand. We will do everything possible to help those affected get back on track.

“However the true cost of the recovery is set to run into millions. Our initial impact assessment of highway infrastructure alone estimates that there is around £3million of repairs needed.

“Whilst we have already made two hardship relief funds immediately available to homes and businesses, we are now seeking assistance from Welsh Government to ensure that appropriate resources are available.

“I will be pleased to meet the First Minister later today to put our request to him in person.”

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Help for businesses affected by flooding in Carmarthenshire

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CARMARTHENSHIRE Council is pulling out all the stops to help businesses affected by flooding over the weekend.

Eight teams from the council’s regeneration department have been out and about, visiting businesses across the county to offer advice and support, if needed.

Over 120 businesses were visited on Monday (October 15) in areas including Carmarthen town centre, Pensarn, Abergwili, Nantgaredig, Llanybydder, Lampeter, Pontweli and Newcastle Emlyn.

Other areas visited included Llanelli, Capel Dewi, Johnstown, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Garnant and Dryslwyn.

Council officers are now making contact with those businesses once again, following-up on their concerns and liaising with other council departments to address issues as soon as possible.

Over 40 Carmarthenshire businesses are already being helped.

A council funding pot to help businesses in the county affected by flooding is also being made available. Details and information on how businesses can apply will be confirmed in coming days.

Cllr Emlyn Dole, Carmarthenshire Council Leader, said: “Council officers in many departments have been working around the clock alongside outside agencies and our partners in the emergency services to help residents and businesses affected by flooding over the weekend.

“Face-to-face contact with businesses means we’ve been able to quickly identify what we can do to best address all issues raised. This has already included signposting businesses to our environment team for contamination issues, tackling concerns related to the collection of waste, and arranging for skips and cages to be despatched to areas that have been badly affected by the flooding for the collection of ruined carpets, furniture and other waste.

“But despite the ongoing clean-up operation, Carmarthenshire is very much open for business, with county residents and businesses showing a huge amount of resilience in the face of adversity.

“I’d urge people to continue to support their local businesses while we help those worst affected get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

Other council work has included highways, cleansing and refuse staff removing debris left by the flood waters. Inspections of all affected road surfaces, verges and bridges are also taking place.

Council housing officers are visiting homes across the county to help people with insurance claims, a hardship fund has been established for residents most in need of financial support, and rate relief for affected businesses is being sought from the Welsh Government.

A flood support form for residents and businesses is also now available on the homepage of Carmarthenshire Council’s website.

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