Pair jailed over £1m VAT fraud

PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS'Captain Richard Williams aboard his U Boat at Botany Bay, Chorley
PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS'Captain Richard Williams aboard his U Boat at Botany Bay, Chorley
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A pair of fraudsters who hijacked their friends’ identities in order to fraudently claim £1m in VAT have been jailed.

Self-styled ‘U-boat commander’ Richard Williams, 55, and Laurel Howarth, 28, pretended to run a number of businesses, across the North West region, selling specially-adapted beds for the disabled.

At Manchester Crown Court today, Williams was sentenced to four and half years jail and Howarth to 20 months.

The pair, of both of Redcar Road, North Shore, used the identities of friends and even changed their own names by deed poll to match the identities, faking invoices and customer records to make fraudulent VAT repayment claims.

During the fraud, they transformed a canal barge into a replica Second World War German U-boat and ran it as a public attraction at Clarence Dock in Leeds. The couple also continued to claim benefits such as Disability Living Allowance throughout the duration of the scam.

Sandra Smith, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HM Revenue and Customs, said: “The pair went to great lengths to try and cover their tracks. Today’s sentences serve as a lesson to those who are tempted by the lure of fraud.”

The pair were later charged with multiple counts of cheating the public revenue and fraud and pleaded guilty to separate charges in 2014.