A gardener who allegedly blackmailed, threatened and defrauded pensioners as old as 95 failed to appear in court today as he is now suffering from psychiatric problems, according to his barrister.

Benjamin Brown, 60, of Cox Lane, in Epsom, was charged with 21 offences in January.

It is alleged that between November 2011 and April last year, Mr Brown committed the offences against 10 elderly and vulnerable victims, aged between 63 and 94, in Epsom, Tadworth, Sutton, Wallington, Richmond, Twickenham and West Molesey, having undertaken gardening work, minor building works and repairs at their properties.

The offences he is accused of include fraud by false representation, knowingly or recklessly engaging in a commercial practice which was unfair, dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain or cause another loss, blackmailing, threatening to destroy property, damaging property, and money laundering.

Surrey County Council, which is prosecuting the case, said he allegedly caused financial detriment to his victims amounting to £89,950.

But, Mr Brown did not attend a preliminary hearing for the offences at Guildford Crown Court this afternoon because he is suffering from “depression and psychological and psychiatric issues”, according to his barrister Ed Butler.

He said: What has been going on are extensive negotiations between the Crown and the defence with a view to resolving this case. 

"Those negotiations have had a setback because of the defendant’s health."

Mr Butler said that Croydon Trading Standards is pursuing another case against Mr Brown, which is running parallel to this one, but that it has also been adjourned once due to his ill-health.

The barrister said Mr Brown was transferred by his doctors to a community mental health team yesterday and that he is waiting for an analysis of his condition.

Mr Butler said that in the conferences he has had with his client Mr Brown is “unable to cope”.

He said: "Mr Brown is not a healthy man in appearance in any event.  At a conference three weeks ago he brought the significant bag of medications he takes."

Mr Butler said that since no progress could be made due to Mr Brown’s illnesses at this time, a date for a provisional trial should be confirmed for January 2015.

But Mr Crorie, prosecuting, argued that the case should be heard sooner as it involves 21 witnesses - many of them elderly.  He said the eldest and most significant of them is 95 and another is a wheelchair-bound 92-year-old in ill-health.

The judge Recorder Jack Bayliss agreed with Mr Crorie and said a provisional date in November would be set for this trial, but questions as to Mr Brown’s fitness to plead to the charges would need to be determined before this time by his barrister.

Mr Brown, who traded as Home Care Property Maintenance and Green Fingers, is alleged to have overcharged customers after little or no work was undertaken, been aggressive and provided little or no paperwork.

His alleged offences include blackmailing a woman in Lynwood Road, Epsom, for £2,000 and destroying a fence at her property.

He remains on unconditional bail.