A company which defrauded solar panel owners by selling them goods and services they did not need has been ordered to pay back its victims hundreds of thousands of pounds.

ESE Services Limited represented itself as a legitimate renewable energy business - but Reading Crown Court heard today (May 16) that, between 2016 and 2021, it defrauded homeowners of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The victims were mostly elderly, and included a couple of pensioners from Kintbury.

Following an investigation by West Berkshire Council, two employees of ESE - William Lowther, 55, from Macclesfield, and Azis Ghanchi, 44, from Blackburn - were convicted of committing fraud by false representation.

At sentencing today (May 16), the two men were spared jail - but Judge Emma Nott nevertheless slapped ESE with a whopping £464,000 bill, to be paid out in compensation to the people it scammed.

Over 70 homeowners were targeted by ESE salespeople.

Jonathan Rees KC - who prosecuted ESE on behalf of West Berkshire Council - provided details of the elaborate fraud in court.

He said that employees of the firm would seek out households who already had solar panels installed.

They were then mailed letters claiming they were due for a 'health check' provided by ESE employees.

Mr Rees KC said: "Those 'health check visits' were really just an excuse to sell consumers products that were overpriced."

Lowther and Ghanchi personally carried out these visits on behalf of ESE.

Their victims were primarily retirees - including a former surgeon.

Among them were Berkshire, Sussex, Cornwall and Durham residents.

An elderly couple from Kintbury ended up forking over £3,339 to ESE for 'improvements' to their solar panels.

The products sold turned out to be completely unnecessary.

Judge Nott said that ESE's fraudulent operation had taken a significant personal toll on the victims.

She told the court: "Each and every elderly victim who gave evidence during the course of the trial was embarrassed, and one or two of them expressed humiliation and self-doubt."

"You could sense their sense of humiliation, and their sense that they had been diminished in the eyes of the professional people who were questioning them, and who were trying to draw out their accounts.

"That is where the real harm in this case lies, in my view."

Ghanchi was handed a two-year prison sentence, suspended for 18 months - while Lowther received a four-month sentence, also suspended for 18 months.

In addition, Ghanchi was personally ordered to pay a £2,500 fine out of his own pocket.

But Judge Nott also resolved to impose a much larger fine on ESE.

She said that the firm - which is still in operation - had been "cavilling" compensation claims previously made against it, which already totalled hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The judge stated: "The company needs to be properly punished, so that it maintains its newfound desire to act with transparency … towards its elderly customer base."

ESE Services Limited has been ordered to pay out £464,000 to its victims.