A mobile fish seller who forced customers to buy fish in England that was often unfit to eat has been jailed.

Between 2017 and 2019, John Mills used aggressive, unfair, and dishonest selling practices to force customers to buy large quantities of unwanted fish.

The 50-year-old, who defrauded people out of £100,000 ($131,000), was sentenced this week at Teesside Crown Court to five years in prison, reduced to 40 months for an early guilty plea.

Mills, of Chester-le-Street before moving to Derby, pleaded guilty to fraudulent trading following witness statements from more than 80 people. He targeted elderly and vulnerable households across the Midlands and North of England. Many victims had serious health conditions and were targeted in the belief they were less likely to question the sale or complain.

Source cheaply and sell on for a profit
Victims described how Mills forced his way into their homes without permission and pushed them into paying high prices for poor quality fish they didn’t want.

Mills’ fraud was built on tactics that included sourcing fish cheaply and selling it at a high price, targeting people in vulnerable situations including those with dementia; disregard for hygiene standards and other legal requirements, and changing trading name after complaints were made to avoid detection.

The investigation was led by the National Trading Standards North East Regional Investigations Team. Analysis of the defendant’s bank accounts and the card terminal used to process payments showed £107,000 ($140,000) worth of fish sales during the three-year period, although authorities said it is likely the actual figure was higher.

The mobile fish selling industry has generated significant numbers of complaints over many years, particularly in North East England, with criminal traders using aggressive and unfair techniques to generate sales, according to Trading Standards.

Protecting the public
Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, said many victims have been left feeling distressed and vulnerable as well as facing significant financial loss.

“The defendant had a blatant disregard for the quality of the fish he was supplying and the safety and welfare of his customers. It is only right that he now faces the consequences of his fraudulent actions.”

Mills has also been issued with a Criminal Behavior Order that prohibits him indefinitely from selling products and making unsolicited calls at people’s homes.

Michael Yeadon, Durham County Council’s environment and health protection manager, welcomed the sentence and added they will continue to ensure traders follow national standards on labeling and hygiene of food.

“Our community protection service recognizes the importance of inspecting food businesses and the sampling of food in order to protect members of the public from the actions of unscrupulous traders such as Mills.”

Mills was brought to the attention of Cumbria Trading Standards and Cumbria Constabulary when he visited the county in early 2019 to sell fish door to door.

Celia Tibble, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet Member for Trading Standards, said the case should act as a warning to others.

“Our front doors are supposed to provide security and protection but for some criminals, they are the perfect entrance through which to take advantage of those most at risk in our society.”

Sergeant Chris Blain, of Cumbria Police, said: “We appreciate how difficult it can be to deal with cold callers at the door but would like to remind residents to exercise caution and follow Trading Standards advice.”

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