Roofer denied bail after allegedly scamming Tania Hird, attempting to flee country

The “driving force” behind an international sham roofing syndicate has been denied bail after allegedly swindling Tania Hird out of almost $33,000 for a simple gutter repair on the Toorak mansion she shares with her husband, AFL great James Hird.

British national Mark Burton, 23, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday afternoon charged with 11 counts of obtaining property by deception.

James Hird and wife Tania Hird have allegedly been swindled in a roofing scam.Credit:David Caird

The accused established a roofing and guttering business called Top-Rated Roofing and Guttering Pty Ltd five days after Burton arrived in Australia on a tourist visa in March, magistrate Peter Reardon told the court during the bail application.

Prosecutors allege the Hirds’ roof repairs in June – which cost more than $32,900 – should have cost about $350. In total, police allege 11 victims were stung with more than $640,000 during a 15-week period of offending.

Burton was arrested five weeks ago at Melbourne Airport, where he’d arrived in March with his partner and two young children, as well as his brother and his brother’s partner. He was picked up during a security screening en route to the UK and has since remained in custody.

The accused appeared at the hearing via video link from the Ravenhall Correctional Centre, placing his head on the table while awaiting his fate.

On denying Burton bail, Reardon said some of the accused’s clients were “vulnerable elderly people” who would have relied on the expertise of what they believed were qualified tradesmen.

The magistrate said on the police summary of events, the accused’s clients were “threatened” if they queried the inflated pricing.

“In my mind, this is a highly sophisticated scheme, where the allegation is that the accused hit this country running to set up a company,” Reardon said.

“[The police informant says] the accused set up bank account numbers, that he dealt with people on the phone … he was the driving force of this whole roof scamming scheme.”

James Hird worked as an assistant coach for the GWS Giants last month.Credit:Getty Images

Police opposed Burton’s bail application on the grounds that the accused posed an unacceptable flight risk if released, despite him having handed over his passport to authorities.

Prosecutor Eugene Twomey said Burton had committed dishonestly offences in the UK and the Netherlands and had active warrants for his arrest in two different states of the US.

Reardon told the court there was “little or nothing” to stop Burton from attempting to flee the state or the country if he was placed on bail.

Burton’s wife had offered to hand over her passport as well as her children’s to secure the accused’s bail, but the magistrate said it could amount to a “breach of human rights” if they decided to leave Australia and were restricted from doing so, as they had not been charged with any offence.

Defence lawyer Adrian Lewin had argued on Thursday that his client should be released from custody as there was stable accommodation available for him in Australia, and family in the UK could provide monetary support.

He unsuccessfully urged the court to consider the alleged offending as potential “regulatory offences” that should instead be dealt with in a civil jurisdiction.

The defence proffered a document from a UK-based doctor that said Burton’s mother was unwell, which was the reason the accused had attempted to leave the country.

But Reardon noted the document had spelling mistakes and a “clearly superimposed date”.

“In light of the fact that these are fraudulence cases … one has suspicions about the authenticity of such a document,” he said.

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