A HEARTLESS builder left a family friend feeling suicidal after defrauding her of £34,500 for works he never completed.

Alex Aird, 33, realised he was out of his depth after agreeing to build two bungalows for his friend at her house in Maldon in March 2019.

The customer sent him thousands of pounds in installments while the dad-of-two from Braintree planned the project but he never began the work.

Instead, behind closed doors Aird, who also never paid an architect for drawings, was Googling how to secure planning permission and watching YouTube tutorials.

Braintree and Witham Times: Fraud - a stock image of a builderFraud - a stock image of a builder (Image: Newsquest)

"To say he was winging it from the beginning is an understatement,” Nick Bonehill, mitigating, told Chelmsford Crown Court.

Judge David Turner KC lambasted Aird for continuing to take payments over a 16 month period, stating his good initial intentions soon became motivated by greed.

He said: “Your conduct towards her was a little short of disgraceful. It was deliberate, persistent, deceptive and staggeringly mean-spirited.

“It was exploitative and shameful. You lied and lied and lied.”

Braintree and Witham Times: Sentence - Aird was spared prison when he appeared before Chelmsford Crown CourtSentence - Aird was spared prison when he appeared before Chelmsford Crown Court (Image: Archant)

Aird, an Essex County Fire and Rescue Service firefighter of Howlett Place, Braintree, admitted two offences of fraud.

The court heard his friend lost weight and felt suicidal as a result of his cruel campaign of fraud.

Mr Bonehill said: “It started off with the intention of doing it properly, he couldn’t do that and he put his head in the sand.

“He absolutely spiralled and it spiralled out of control.”

Braintree and Witham Times: Cruel - Aird defrauded his victim of £34,500Cruel - Aird defrauded his victim of £34,500 (Image: Newsquest)

The defence barrister said Aird has £15,000 in a savings account he can pay to the victim “within days” and has pledged to repay the remaining £19,500 within six months.

He added the defendant’s pregnant wife is undergoing a health scare and urged the judge to suspend any custodial sentence so the family is not left without an income.

Judge Turner KC said Aird “richly deserves” a prison sentence but spared him out of “mercy” for his family.

He suspended a two year prison sentence for two years and ordered Aird to undertake 120 hours of unpaid work and 20 rehabilitation activity sessions.

A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing to explore compensating the victim was fixed for November 20.