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West Yorkshire trio hauled before the courts for transport firm VAT scam

Press Release   •   Aug 28, 2015 15:54 BST

Photo: David Anthony Hirst, Sharon Mitchell and Carl Buttle

A Huddersfield man who set up two bogus haulage firms to claim £45,000 in fraudulent VAT repayments – so that he could buy a real HGV – has been jailed following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

David Hirst, 53, enlisted the help of Leeds high street bank worker Sharon Mitchell, 53, to submit fake account statements to HMRC that appeared to show that Hirst and accomplice Carl Buttle, 42, had spent thousands on diesel. The trio then reclaimed the VAT ‘paid’ on the non-existent fuel.

But the scam reached the end of the road when an HMRC taskforce, set up to target fraudulent VAT refund claims, turned its attention to C&C International Transport Ltd. Investigators discovered the company had no premises, vehicles or employees.

Jo Tyler, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“David Hirst might have fancied himself as a businessman, but it’s a very poor businessman indeed who thinks plotting with others to steal from the taxpayer is a good way to pay for a lorry.

“Today’s sentence sends out a clear message to anyone engaged in this type of criminality: we will find you and, if necessary, bring you before the courts.

“HMRC is devoting more resources than ever to tracking down fraudsters. It is vital that we are able to collect the right amount of tax to keep the country’s public services running.”

As part of the investigation, codenamed Operation Akimbo, HMRC contacted fuel suppliers and established that invoices provided by C&C International Transport Ltd were forged. Bank statements submitted in support of a £45,407.51 VAT repayment to sister company Independent Road Transport Ltd were also found to be counterfeit.

The homes of Hirst, Mitchell and Buttle were searched on 16 April 2014. At interview, Hirst admitted the businesses never existed and that the invoices were false. He went on to explain the purpose of the fraud was to claim enough money to set up a genuine haulage business. Buttle denied any knowledge of the plot.

Meanwhile, a forensic examination of Mitchell’s work computer uncovered a number of counterfeit invoices. Investigators also discovered she had used equipment belonging to the bank to produce the forged statements – before sending the documents to HMRC form her work email address.

After pleading guilty to the fraudulent evasion of VAT at an earlier hearing, Hirst was sentenced to 20 months in prison by His Honour Judge Benson at Bradford Crown Court today, 28 August 2015.

Mitchell was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to a charge of false accounting.

Buttle, who also admitted the fraudulent evasion of VAT, was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work.

Notes to Editors

1. David Hirst, Keldergate, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. DOB: 25/05/1962.

2. Sharon Mitchell (previously Hirst), Vine Crescent, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. DOB: 23/04/1962.

3. Carl Anthony Buttle, Woodrow Drive, Bradford, West Yorkshire. DOB: 22/06/1973.

4. Mitchell’s 36 years of employment at a Leeds bank ended after she was sacked for gross misconduct.

5. This investigation originated from the VAT Repayments (North & Wales) taskforce. Taskforces bring together various HMRC compliance and enforcement teams for intensive bursts of activity targeted at specific sectors and locations where there is evidence of high risk of tax evasion and fraud. The teams visit traders to examine their records and carry out other investigations.

6. You can report someone to HMRC if you think they’re committing VAT fraud by calling the Customs Hotline on 0800 595 000.

7. Follow HMRC Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice

8. HMRC's Flickr channel: www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

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Email: joshua.shrimpton-dean@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk

Or

Nikki Sanders

Tel: 03000 524936 / 07867 970437

Email: nikki.sanders@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk

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Website www.gov.uk/hmrc

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs Press Office

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is the UK’s tax authority.

HMRC is responsible for making sure that the money is available to fund the UK’s public services and for helping families and individuals with targeted financial support.

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