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Partner of solar-panel fraudster gets suspended sentence

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The accomplice and partner of a businessman who headed up a solar panel scam has received a 12-month suspended prison sentence.

At Exeter Crown Court today (Thursday April 7) Paula McGarel, 54, of Shoreland Way, Westward Ho! Devon, was sentenced following an investigation by the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service.

McGarel worked for Intelligent Solar Limited, and at a previous hearing she had pleaded guilty for failing to return customer deposits and for charging fees when customers tried to cancel work.

Her partner Mark McCracken, 44, of Hestercombe Close, Bridgwater, Somerset, was director of the company and last month was imprisoned for 30 months and banned from being a company director for six years.

Intelligent Solar Limited operated from Taunton and then Torquay from 2015 to 2017, selling solar PV panels to consumers and arranging for their installation.  One of their selling points was that the solar installations ‘would pay for themselves,’ because ‘eligible’ customers could claim payments from the government, called Feed-in Tariffs, for the energy created.

However, despite McCracken’s claims, customers of Intelligent Solar Limited were not able to claim money back because the company was not signed up to the Renewable Energy Consumer Code.

When customer’s realised that they were being duped and tried to cancel, these requests were either refused, or unjustified fees were levied, or deposits were withheld.

Barry White, defending Paula McGarel, said it was McCracken who was the ‘driving force’ and although she understood she was acting outside the law, she would have had to walk away from ‘everything’ – her relationship and her livelihood. 

Mr White added that in ‘hindsight’ she recognises that this is what she should have done. 

Judge David Evans told McGarel:

“I bear in mind the dynamics of your relationship with Mark McCracken, both personal and professional and to walk away may have involved significant upheaval on your part, but that is what was required.”

Sharon Anderson, Group Manager Intelligence and Investigations for Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service said:

“This was a long and complex investigation. It’s right that consumers should be eager to embrace renewable energy, but we all have to be aware that there are unscrupulous traders out there who will exploit new markets and systems and consumers should take care to avoid them. Always research the technology as thoroughly as you can and seek independent advice where it is available.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s cabinet Member Responsible for Trading Standards said:

“I support any homeowner who wishes to reduce their energy costs or carbon footprint through new technology, though the installation of solar panels, heat pumps or through retrofitting their homes for instance.

“However this case also shows the importance of taking care when employing traders. We recommend that you seek a range of quotes and check out testimonials and trade memberships. Trading Standards have their own trader approval scheme Buy With Confidence and we audit the traders who are members to ensure they comply with consumer law.”

A financial investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act will now be carried out to find any assets that might be used to pay compensation to the victims.

McGarel received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and told to complete 180 hours unpaid work to be completed within 12 months.  She was also disqualified as a director for four years.