DISGRACED former horse trader James Gray is back behind bars after fleecing pensioners out of thousands for cowboy building work.

Gray emptied the bank account of an 80-year-old man and charged another more than £20,000 for work that should only have been valued at £150, Swindon Crown Court heard on Friday.

The 50-year-old needed the money from his bogus building work to help pay off more than £1million in court costs and fines he was handed after dozens of horses, donkeys and ponies were found dead or dying at his former business at Spindles Farm, Hyde Heath, the court was told.

Work at one of the properties was so shoddy rainfall washed a fresh coat of paint off a coal bunker, prosecutor Daniel Fugallo told the court.

His victim, David Margerum, died a few months after a neighbour discovered a bank account which previously contained £18,000 had been drained of all but £300 after Gray's repeated demands for money.

The family of Mr Margerum, of Swindon, said the previously well-turned out gentleman became thin and unkempt and they had to buy food for him.

Mr Fugallo told the court: "Mr Margerum said he didn't want the work done. He couldn't afford it. He was concerned about the cost but Mr Gray continued on and one at him and he became confused about it, about how much he had paid and how much he owed."

Gray targeted Mr Margerum while facing separate charges for conning Dr Dennis Rhodes, an 88-year-old former British Library academic, out of £20,250 for work experts valued at just £150.

Using the name Joseph De Paula, Gray told his victim he had previously done work for him and needed £2,800 in cash up front for building materials and drove him to his branch of Lloyds TSB.

Further demands were made for cheques for £6,000 and £7,100, paid into accounts of people connected to Gray, who later drove Dr Rhodes from his home in Bois Lane, Chesham Bois, to the bank again to get even more cash.

Bank staff grew suspicious and refused funds when Gray accompanied Dr Rhodes on September 6, 2011, and police and trading standards officials were waiting for the conman when he returned the following day.

Mr Fugallo said: "In a nutshell he bamboozled an 88-year-old man out of £20,000 pounds by persuading him to hand over cheques and cash in return for building work which, in so far as it was done at all, was either unnecessary or so poorly done that it was virtually worthless."

Gray - who was sentenced for 20 offences of dishonesty at Isleworth Crown Court in 2004 - initially denied the charge but changed his plea to guilty on the second day of his trial.

He was jailed for a total of four and a half years after admitting two counts of fraud by false representation.

Judge Tim Mousley told Gray as he passed sentence: "Anybody who has heard the detail of these two offences can have absolutely no sympathy for you.

"Each of them was premeditated, was planned, and you seemed to be aware of where vulnerable targets were living.

"You targeted vulnerable people deliberately.

"These offences were mean in the extreme."