Revealed: Complaints and claims against Norfolk police officer turned builder Ben Staff
- Credit: Archant © 2008
A former police officer who quit the force following a public bust-up with three girlfriends has been linked to a string of controversies in Norfolk's building trade.
An investigation by the Eastern Daily Press has found the firm of ex-policeman Ben Staff owed thousands of pounds to contractors and construction firms in Norfolk after his building projects hit problems.
The controversies engulfing the 32-year-old include:
Firms made to chase more than £70,000 in unpaid bills from Mr Staff's company;
Police called to a site he was leasing following a fall-out;
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A council ordering a site he managed to be cleaned up after waste was illegally stored there;
Trading Standards looking into complaints that were made against him;
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Residents complaining about the quality of new homes built by one of his firms.
Mr Staff made headlines in 2008 when he was convicted following a violent doorstep bust-up with three of his girlfriends.
The former policeman, from Thorpe St Andrew, threw a bottle of cola over one of his girlfriends before trying to stop officers arresting him.
He also made 'persistent' calls to one of the women, Beth Young, allegedly threatening to harm her unborn baby and warning that he would 'kick her head in'.
Mr Staff admitted assault, harassment and obstructing a police officer and was fined £2,215 by Norwich magistrates.
He quit the force in 2008 and then set up a construction firm called Mr Trades, but three county court judgements (CCJs) were granted against the firm ordering the firm to pay more than £70,000 in debts.
They included a £70,000 debt to Lenwade firm DGT Structures for work done at Frans Green Industrial estate on Sandy Lane near Hockering which Mr Staff leased.
Documents seen by the EDP showed the County Court Judgement was granted in August 2012 and was still to be paid at the end of April this year, but it has now been cleared within the last few days.
The company of Norwich businessmen Andre Serruys and Van Thurston was owed the money after Mr Staff's project to build a waste recycling plant at the site was beset by delays and debts.
He put up a metal building bought from DGT Structures (pictured), but work at the site has not been finished.
A weighbridge was also installed at the site by a different firm costing around £20,000.
That firm said that after waiting for Mr Staff to finish paying for it, the firm which put the weighbridge in returned to the site in mid-March and took the weighbridge out after only receiving some of the fee.
John McGuire, who sold and installed the bridge, told the EDP: 'We had given him all sorts of payment options. We had various agreements and he broke every one.
'He said he would pay in full by January 31. By January 31 it never happened.'
Mr McGuire said it was 'very rare' to remove an unpaid for weighbridge from a client.
Problems at Frans Green also led to a stand-off between Mr Staff and Robert Thompson who also leases part of the industrial estate alongside Mr Staff for his own waste business.
On the morning of November 8 2012 police were called to Frans Green.
It is understood Mr Thompson called the police as he was unable to get into the site to run his business.
A spokeswoman for the force said: 'Police were called to an industrial unit on Sandy Lane to reports of a dispute and criminal damage. Officers attended and established that this was a civil matter.'
No arrests were made but the fall-out escalated this year when the former policeman took Mr Thompson to court through his solicitors Fosters for a bankruptcy order.
A court hearing for the order was heard behind closed doors at Norwich County Court in March. It is understood negotiations are still going on between the two men's solicitors.
A county court judgement was also taken out in December for £577 against Mr Trades and another judgement worth £897 was granted on March 21. Both have now been paid.
The EDP made two appointments to speak to Mr Staff so that he could respond to the allegations but he failed to show up on either occasion.
When the EDP previously spoke to him on the phone he denied the allegations.
• 'The place looked like a bomb site with debris everywhere'
Norfolk Trading Standards is also looking into a number of complaints made against Mr Staff.
One woman claimed she overpaid for building work at her Norwich home last year by thousands of pounds.
Bronagh Regel told the EDP that she was quoted £10,000 for work at her Patteson Road home in the north of the city.
But she ended up paying more than quadruple that amount after Mr Staff claimed there were a host of problems.The nurse moved into the home at the end of November 2011 and asked her estate agent if they could recommend a builder. They put her in touch with Mr Staff's firm to do work including decorating, installing a new shower and putting in a new kitchen. But after starting in December the work and bills quickly escalated.
'He told me in tones of regret that the walls were in a shocking state of repair with crumbling mortar, rising damp and a whole host of other problems,' she said.
A few days later she was told that there were problems with the roof of her home. Then she was told by Mr Staff that windows needed replacing and the chimney stack needed work and that there was woodworm in the house.
The work meant she stayed in a hotel for almost three weeks in December 2011, but she claimed that when she visited her house each day, no work was taking place.
'The place looked like a bomb site with debris everywhere and builders' rubbish strewn about the front and back gardens,' she said. 'When I contacted Ben Staff about the lack of activity he always sounded shocked.'
At the start of 2012 Mrs Regel complained about the lack of progress. 'I was increasingly worried and feeling very foolish,' she said.
Before Christmas she moved back into the house and lived in one bedroom.
'It is difficult to describe how frustrated and fed up I felt,' she said. 'Ben Staff now became hard to contact.'
In April her kitchen arrived. She said it was not the one ordered from the catalogue and not from the firm she thought it was coming from.
In June 2012, Mrs Regel said she contacted Mr Staff demanding her money back, but he told her to stop harassing him.
That summer she employed another builder.
A spokesman for Trading Standards said: 'We are aware of a small number of complaints against Ben Staff and are currently looking into it.'
•Pub site covered in rubbish
Mr Staff was also employed to manage the Shoemaker pub site in West Earlham, Norwich.
The site has stood empty since the pub was knocked down last year and the landowner, Ray Plummer, asked Mr Staff to manage the site.
But, as reported in November, rubbish was tipped on the site, prompting protests from councillors in the area.
Norwich City Council wrote to Mr Plummer warning that the mess should be cleared up.
They said it was not acceptable to use the site for waste storage, which meant the Shoemaker became a waste transfer station which was illegal without a permit from the Environment Agency.
A legal notice was served by city council officers and the site was cleaned up in February.
Councillor Bert Bremner, who campaigned for the site to be cleared, said: 'It became a [waste] transfer station. We just wanted to get it cleared.'
A spokesman for the city council said: 'One of our environmental health officers wrote and requested that the site be cleared in November, following complaints we'd received about it.
'Unfortunately the informal approach we took had no effect so after the Christmas holidays we served a legal notice under The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act. Following this, the notice was complied with and the site was cleared on February 21.'
Mr Plummer said Mr Staff had been managing the site for him.
He said the Shoemaker site was moving towards being developed after being cleared up.
Mr Plummer told the EDP that he hoped to build six houses and 12 flats on the site. 'We are looking forward to it all going ahead,' he said.
•Complaints about new homes
Mr Staff is registered as a director of a firm called Morpheus Homes, according to documents filed at Companies House.
The company built three houses in Hainford last year, but two of the homeowners complained to the EDP about the quality of the work done.
One said his house had suffered from a water leak from the mains pipe and he had to pay for a plumber to fix it. He said he tried calling Mr Staff about the problem but claimed no one had answered his calls, despite him having a guarantee on the home. There is also a crack in the front door of the new house.
'I have given up now,' he said. 'There was supposed to be a 10-year guarantee but I'm taking it on the chin.'
Another family said their move was delayed by six months and the quality of fittings was poor.
'He [Mr Staff] kept saying it would be finished and it would not be finished,' they said.
Fittings and bathrooms put in by Morpheus Homes were then ripped out by the family as they said the quality was not good enough.
They said that bathroom screens were already corroding with one screen having a sticker dating it back to 2002.
They added: 'Our problem was with him dragging and dragging [it out] and then disappearing.'
They made an offer for the detached home in February 2012 and claimed they were told it would be finished in a month. But the family did not move in until December.
The work at Hainford has also led to a contractor pursuing Mr Staff's firm for unpaid work.
Martyn Green, who runs Grab Lorry and Mini Digger hire in Norwich, said Staff's company hired his equipment and that he had also cleared the Hainford site.
In a letter to his own solicitors he claimed he was owed almost £29,000 after only being partially paid for work completed more than a year ago.
'It is just unbelievable,' he told the EDP. 'I had to get a loan out to do some work after that and I'm still paying that back. He [Staff] is so believable and you go a long way before you realise that he is not going to pay.'