A COWBOY solar panel supplier who conned customers all over the West Country has been jailed.

Mark McCracken ran a company called Intelligent Solar from offices in Torquay and Taunton and used high pressure sales tactics to entice families into having panels fitted at their homes.

His sales team offered returns which were never achieved and claimed to be part of a Government approved scheme which would enable customers to sell back surplus energy to electricity companies.

In reality, he was an undischarged bankrupt whose previous solar energy firm had been forced out of business by a flood of complaints from customers.

Intelligent Solar fobbed off complaints and left clients out of pocket when they discovered they were not entitled to the feed-in tariff for surplus power.

Many were also pressured into taking out loans with Tesco’s bank to pay for the work, even though McCracken and Intelligent Solar were not licensed to offer financial advice.

The fraud ran between 2015 and 2016 and the total value of the fraudulent contracts was more than £50,000, Exeter Crown Court was told.

One elderly customer from Exmouth was told they would recoup their investment in a few years. They later worked out they would have to live to be over 100 to do so.

McCracken, aged 44, of Hestercombe Close, Bridgwater, admitted fraud, unfair trading, breach of bankruptcy rules and offering financial advice without authorization.

He was jailed for two years and six months by Judge David Evans and banned from running any business for five years after his release.

The judge told him: ‘You obtained tens of thousands of pounds worth of business on the back of fraudulent and misleading processes.

‘These were ploys to make money while all the time you were bankrupt and should not have been running Intelligent Solar, even if it had been legitimate and above board.

‘This went on for a sustained period and was far from being a single incident. It was not short-lived or opportunist.’

Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting, said solar panel installation should comply with the Government approved MCS standards but Intelligent Solar Limited (ISL) had been refused registration because of complaints about previous companies run by McCracken.

ISL literature and sales scripts falsely claimed they were MCS approved and although some work was done by MCS contractors, it did not carry the valid certification and meant some customers could not access the feed-in tariffs.

Many were pressured to take out loans through Tesco and offered Clubcard points as a bonus, and sales representatives were instructed to sort out the loans from customers’ homes because they may change their mind if given time to reflect.

McCracken installed his 75-year-old mother Angelene as managing director after he was banned from running a company because he was bankrupt, but it was a sham and he remained in charge and even recorded a promotional video in which he said he was the MD.

Victim impact statements referred to McCracken and the company as ‘unscrupulous rogue traders and fraudsters’. One calculated he would need to live to 107 before he broke even on his £7,500 investment.

Mr Paul Dentith, defending, said McCracken was left with solar panels after the failure of his previous business and needed to sell them. He said much of the company’s work was of good quality and there are many customers still using and making money from their solar panels.

He said McCracken now suffers from depression and a serious eye condition and has lost his marriage, his business and his home as a result of this case.