If two parties to a dispute give different accounts of what happened, courts look for something on paper. Trouble is, documents can be too persuasive
DEAR, OH DEAR. IF HE COULD FIND A STONE BIG enough, I guess this builder fellow Nomaan Sheikh would want to get under it. Five judges in three court hearings have decided he is a dishonest man and an untruthful witness.

I've told you about Mr Sheikh before (first on 5 April 2002 and then 23 May 2003). You may recall the case. He won his first battle in the High Court two years ago. Then a retrial was ordered and he lost. Then he sought another retrial, but the Court of Appeal said no, enough.

Before I tell you about the case, permit me a short digression. Lying is in the news, isn't it? No, I am not going to tread the Hutton boards, or say politicians are prone to fib. I listen to these people, read a newspaper and "take it all with a pinch of salt". Rather, my old Nan is to blame. "People add a bit of seasoning, my love," she said. "Things get spiced up." That's all very well until you are in the dispute-deciding business. One side or both will ask the adjudicator, arbitrator, judge or jury to swallow a story. But finding a grain of salt isn't much use when you need a grain of truth.

Back to the case. Mr and Mrs Daly got a price of £125,000 from Middlesex Design and Build Ltd (MDB) by means of an unsolicited approach for their house extension. That's a mistake. The Dalys were wrong to deal with an unknown quantity.

Get the name of a local builder from someone you know. Check him, then check him again.

After they got into contract, the next mistake was to agree payments in cash. The cash was handed to company owner Nomaan Sheikh. Someone lied now. The Dalys said they agreed to a novation of the contract from MDB to Mr Sheikh. It was his idea, they said. But Mr Sheikh said the opposite: that he wanted cash for MDB. He produced a signed contract between Daly and MDB to prove nothing was novated.

My old Nan is to blame. ‘People add a bit of seasoning, my love,’ she said. ‘Things get spiced up’

Then the building collapsed. Shocking. MDB vanished. The Dalys tracked Mr Sheikh down and sued him personally. He produced the signed contract document between MDB and the Dalys to persuade the first judge not to believe the householders. It was fatal to their case. However, it didn't stop that judge giving a ringing condemnation of Mr Sheikh's dishonesty and the quality of his evidence.

The clue to a dodgy building deal is a request for cash. Make out a cheque. If he gets glum about a cheque, you have a bum builder. And if you do pay cash, don't be surprised if a doubting Thomas suspects you of being in on a deal to avoid VAT.

It adds to the mess you are in.

The second trial was a complete retrial. This time the Daly signature on that all-important contract was scrutinised, judged a forgery and Mr Sheikh lost. The contract was with him in person, so he had to pay up for all the dodgy work – £65,000. Mr Sheikh now scouted around and got hold of more examples of Mr Daly's signature, and a different analyst to examine them. Then he asked the Court of Appeal to order a second retrial. The court had little sympathy with this, arguing that he could have done all this research in preparation for the second trial. Go away, it said. It was a relief, said the court, that a third trial does not have to take place.