An Ingol nurse has appealed for urgent help after a builder left her family home without a roof before vanishing with £17,100.Advertisement
Katie Sowerby is a neurological nurse at Royal Preston Hospital and lives with her partner, Chris, and three children, Jesse, six months, Cleo, 2, and Aaliyah, 16.
In 2021, Katie was pregnant with Jesse, so they planned to convert their loft into a bedroom for Aaliyah to study for her upcoming GCSEs.
Read more: Police appeal after two thefts at Cottam Co-Op
But the condition left by the builder at the house on Marlfield Close has left Katie heartbroken and the family with an unliveable property.
Katie said: “It all seemed genuine, and I’m a nurse, not a builder, so I did not think he would do anything. He lives down the road as well, which is bizarre.
“I guess he still lives there. He does not answer the door when I go around. We are getting the loft done because our two-year-old is in our room.
“I’m on maternity leave, so we could not afford to get the builder the money, so my partner’s stepdad got a loan, and we pay it back monthly. It was a last resort.”
Read more: Police appeal after stolen quad bike found in Freckleton
After consulting Trust A Trader, the website recommended Ultra Restore Preston Ltd, and the director, Billee Hopkinson, quoted Katie £24,300 to complete the work.
After starting on 6 September 2021, Hopkinson said he would take five to six weeks to complete the job.
The family provided Hopkinson with an initial £8,100 for materials, including timber and windows, and quizzed the family on the colours they wanted.
Read more: Preston Police issuing young people and their parents with Criminal Behaviour Orders as city centre disorder continues
The quote confirmed three £8,100 payments, with the third paid upon completion.
Jesse was due in September but arrived a month early, a few days before the work commenced.
The work started on the date Hopkinson promised, and he began ripping materials out of the loft.
Read more: Multiple arrests after M6 and Leyland police chase
The following Monday, the work crew were present, but Jesse was unwell, so Katie rushed him to the hospital.
Katie said Hopkinson was aware of the situation and rang her the following day to ask about Building Control.
He said the process involved confirming he was allowed to proceed with the work and then having the job signed off upon completion to register the house as having a new bedroom.
Read more: Preston city centre cafe The Larder has windows smashed
The family also said they felt pressured into making further payments after their deposit had been paid. Hopkinson had said the payments were needed for additional materials.
After the further payments, progress on the loft slowed, with Katie receiving a series of messages from Hopkinson saying that the crew was on its way, but nobody would turn up.
Hopkinson would offer excuses as he became increasingly absent, finish work early, not answer his phone, and blame his lack of work on poor weather conditions, send his brother in his stead, or disappear for up to a week at a time.
Read more: Witness appeal as man dies after being pulled from the river at Higher Walton
The family contacted Citizens Advice, who told them they had a verbal contract with Hopkinson, but he had failed to complete the work in a reasonable time, as it had been seven weeks.
Citizens Advice told the family to write to Hopkinson, and he rang Katie the following day to confirm he had received the letter and promised to fix any damage.
But the firm was soon liquidated, and Hopkinson disappeared.
Read more: Elderly woman found ‘lost and confused’ in Leyland park
He reportedly used secondhand materials, left holes in the ceiling and exposed wiring, with piles of rubbish, building materials and equipment strewn around the garden.
Katie said: “It’s quite hard. I’m not money-orientated like that. I can’t get the money back, but the fact is, my son was in the hospital with breathing problems.
“He’s got a chest infection all the time, he’s coughing, my bedroom is damp, I’ve got two children cramped in the room with me, and my little girl has got asthma.”
Read more: South Ribble and Chorley residents urged to hide keys after multiple car thefts
With the roof missing, water leaked into the house, flooding the loft, landing and bedrooms, creating a damp issue, with the family unable to use the shower and using a torch when moving around the property.
The leak has also led to a severe water ingress affecting two neighbouring properties.
Katie said: “If you close your business down, fine, but he’s left me with no roof – leaking into my neighbours’ properties.
“Their walls are soaking. I’ve got Places for People coming after me because I’m the homeowner. They’re coming after me for the damage for that.”
“If it was me, and I was closing my business down, I would say to my customers I’m really sorry, the pandemic has hit me, and I can’t carry on, but I will make sure you’re safe, and your house is watertight and secure.
“But he hasn’t even done that!”
Read more: Cottam shop staff threatened with machete and hammer in armed robbery
Building Control contacted the family as the water was affecting the neighbouring properties.
They visited the home and told them they must stop working on the house because the work undertaken was not up to building standards, and they needed to arrange an emergency meeting.
Katie said the council told Hopkinson in September, while she was in the hospital, not to carry on with the work as he needed a design package, for which he agreed to pay.
Read more: City centre bar welcomes action on anti-social behaviour as Preston Police deal with ‘numerous youths’
But Katie said he continued with the work regardless and did not inform the family about the instructions he had received.
She said Building Control was unaware that Hopkinson had continued as he had failed to contact them, told the family there were no issues and proceeded to ask for further payment.
Hopkinson then did not initially pay the fee, and after a week, Katie and her neighbour visited his house to request that he pay the money and move on with the work as it was approaching Christmas.
He paid £250 the following day and promised to arrange workdays.
Read more: South Ribble Police seize ‘zombie’ knife during week of action
The family received no contact until Chris visited his house, where Hopkinson reportedly swore before Chris demanded either a refund or a start and finish date in writing.
Hopkinson refused to offer a refund but promised to that week arrange a start date.
But at the end of the week, he had not been in contact, so Katie rang him, and Hopkinson said he was waiting for a joiner and would be in touch.
Read more: Dispersal order in place in Preston city centre following anti-social behaviour
That was the last contact the family had with Hopkinson, who closed his business a few weeks later, blocking Katie’s number.
The family’s only further correspondence with the firm was a letter informing them that Hopkinson had liquidated Ultra Restore.
Katie said that Hopkinson had already approached an insolvency company to start closure proceedings before he said he would find a joiner and arrange dates to start the work.
She said his insolvency paperwork confirmed that he owed her £10,000 and has outstanding debts with his other customers.
Katie said that Hopkinson failed to use all of the funds paid by the family to complete work on their property, saying Building Control described the house as ‘vandalised’ and not up to standards.
Read more: Leyland man jailed for 21 years after abusing young girl
Katie’s friend Leanne Waite, who is helping the family fundraise, said: “It’s heartbreaking. While paying back a loan for the work, she’s trying to sell things she’s got in her home to try and raise funds.
“She’s paid for someone to come and put felt on the roof to try and stop the water pouring in, solicitors costs, and plumbers to get the electrics back on upstairs.
“But it’s coming on and off again because of the water damage. She’s just throwing money into bottomless pits, and she’s petrified.
“She doesn’t know what to do. She’s got a home with no roof. It’s shocking!”
Read more: Man treated in hospital after Cadley Causeway crash
Katie consulted a solicitor about the liquidation, but they informed her that it would not be worth her time to attend the hearing, as, according to Leanne, Hopkinson claimed he had no assets.
The pandemic was his reason for closing the firm, but Katie said he became the director of two further businesses in 2020 and 2021.
Read more: Man left with serious injuries in Ribbleton Lane collision
Katie said: “I paid someone £700 to make part of the roof watertight on New Year’s Day because it was that bad.
“If I treated people the way he’s treating me, I’d get struck off – I wouldn’t be able to practice as a nurse.
“I think the law needs to be changed. He’s basically stolen money, but he’s earning a living in a big house. In my eyes, I don’t think that’s right in the law.”
Read more: Family pay tribute to ‘loving, devoted and compassionate’ Preston biker
Blog Preston contacted Mr Hopkinson for comment.
In a written response, Mr Hopkinson said: “Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that some of my clients are feeling very let down and that due to the collapse of the company, I’ve been unable to complete their projects.
“This saddened me greatly as this is not something I have had to deal with before, as prior to this, I had always had a good reputation and often had 5-star reviews.
“Prior to Covid-19 restrictions and the easing of lockdown, I was approached by several people to give quotes for their projects, which I was happy to do.
“I was looking forward to expanding the business from being an (Ltd) sole trader to something bigger, which had always been my intention.”
Read more: Youths detained after rocks thrown at Leyland police station
Hopkinson said it was a ‘mistake on his part’ that he did not anticipate or plan for the materials and labour costs post lockdown.
He said in some cases, material prices rose by 70 per cent, with some tradespeople requesting ‘at least double’ the hourly or daily rate they received before the pandemic, meaning he could not complete projects for the initial quotes.
Hopkinson said: “I have learnt so much in the last 6-12 months about what I should have done and where I went wrong.
“Initially, I did not let the clients know that their initial quote would not cover the costs of the project, and I tried to cover the escalating costs myself from the limited resources I had within the company.
“Unfortunately for my clients and my company, these resources were not enough, and with escalating costs and some trades letting me down, I found myself in a situation that I had no control over and never had to deal with before.”
Read more: Police say body found in Catforth is missing Blackpool man
He said he approached the clients about the issues he was experiencing and asked for extra expenses, with ‘some extremely unhappy’, but they understood and tried to amend their projects.
Hopkinson said: “Prior to the company going into liquidation on December 2021, I took out loans and sold a lot of my personal items to try and raise the extra money.
“On one of the projects, I had already paid £11,000 out of my own pocket so that I could keep the projects going, but none of it was enough, and I had no choice but to admit defeat and liquidate Ultra Restore.
“I do fully understand and regret that I have let some of my clients down, and they have good cause to feel very angry.
“But what I have not been able to understand or find acceptable is that some have thought it alright to come round to my home and intimidate my young family.
“They have vandalised my van on several occasions, set up a huge smear campaign, spread lies and try and make me into a scheming villain.”
Read more: Police release more details in search for missing man with links to Preston
He said he did not intentionally let people down, ruin his business and put his family and others into financial difficulties.
Hopkinson said: “I have not gained by any of this. I have lost a lot. I apologise to them and my family for the stress this has caused.
“I am no angel, but neither am I a con man nor villain as claimed by some of my ex-clients.”
The family said they contacted the police, and Lancashire Constabulary confirmed that the case is now under investigation.
Read more: Preston biker dies after St Michael’s crash
Speaking about the damage to number 20 Marlfield Close, neighbour Christine Billington said: “The rain is just pouring into the cavities, and all my walls are wet through – it’s going mouldy.
“I came home one evening, and there were bits of wood all over my living room floor.
“There’s a hole punched through into mine – you could put your fist through it! The so-called extension is an absolute mess.”
Leanne said Katie’s bathroom roof is ‘salvageable’, so the family approached three companies to inquire about installing a cubicle, but none were willing to accept the work.
Leanne said: “Katie believed that everything she was paying for was brand new, but that was not the case.
“How on Earth can this man expect to get away with it?”
Read more: Preston man wanted in connection with harassment allegations
With the family now experiencing financial hardship, they reached out online to local builders on Facebook who might be willing to help make the house livable until they can raise further funds.
The family received scorn, with some accusing Katie of not completing enough research – yet the firm was recommended to her by a reputable website.
Desperate for help, they also reached out to the BBC home improvement show DIY SOS but were unsuccessful.
Cabinet member for planning and regulation at Preston City Council councillor David Borrow confirmed the council was aware of the situation at Marlfield Close.
He said: “Every breach in building regulations is taken very seriously by Preston City Council and is investigated fully. This is a very unfortunate and complex situation which demonstrates the need for such regulations.
“I can confirm that there is an ongoing application at this address and our surveyors are working alongside the owners and their chosen contractors to ensure that these issues are resolved as soon as possible. Any matters relating to specific Building Regulations applications overseen by the Local Authority cannot be disclosed.”
The family are now urgently trying to raise funds to repair the house, with Leanne creating a GoFundMe page to help.
See what’s happening near you by entering your postcode below or visit InYourArea
Read more: See the latest Preston news and headlines
What are your thoughts on the family’s situation? Let us know in the comments below