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(L-R) Jamie Colwell and Brian Colwell
(L-R) Jamie Colwell and Brian Colwell

Press release -

Flying and ferry fleeing fugitives grounded over £1m VAT scam

Father and son tax fugitives are finally behind bars after being captured in Spain and extradited to the UK. The £1 million VAT fraudster tried to avoid jail by fleeing to France in a light aircraft, while his accomplice father escaped by ferry before they both headed to Spain.

Former Sandbanks resident Jamie Colwell, 51, will today (24 May 2018) begin his prison sentence of five years and three months for stealing almost £1 million in VAT repayments on new-build houses that never existed. His father, Brian Colwell, 76, of Bournemouth, will start his two year and eight month jail term.

The pair were tracked down by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigators and our overseas partners to a villa near Benidorm, where they were arrested by Guardia Civil officers on the evening of 9 May 2018.

They were returned to the UK yesterday afternoon (23 May 2018), and immediately taken into custody overnight before appearing at Bournemouth Crown Court by video link on 24 May. The men are now starting their jail terms for their part in the VAT repayment fraud.

Richard Wilkinson, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“The Colwells thought they could evade prison and use their criminal cash to fund a new life on the Costa Blanca but they were wrong. With close cooperation from our international law enforcement partners we tracked the fugitives down, so they can now look forward to jail instead.

“HMRC is determined to ensure absconders face justice. We will pursue those criminals who blatantly steal from the public services we all rely on, and look to recover the proceeds of their crimes from current and future wealth.

“We encourage anyone with information about tax fugitives or suspected tax fraud to report it online, or to contact our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”

His Honour Judge Fuller QC, said that future sentencing will take place for the breach of bail.

Investigations revealed the men had travelled separately to France in January 2018 before crossing the border into Spain. Jamie escaped by plane to northern France, and Brian had crossed the Channel by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen.

The pair along with Jamie’s former partner Briony James, 45, of Salisbury had claimed to have spent £14 million building new houses, to fraudulently claim VAT repayments totalling £965,897, but a HMRC investigation revealed not a single brick had been laid.

Both men were sentenced in their absence at Bournemouth Crown Court on 22 January 2018. Jamie Colwell was sentenced to five years and three months imprisonment, and Brian Colwell to a jail term of two years and eight months. Briony James was jailed for 20 months. Confiscation is being pursued.

As part of HMRC’s investigation into finding the two fugitives, an Oxfordshire man was arrested on 2 May 2018 on suspicion of assisting an offender and perverting the course of justice. He has been released under investigation and enquiries continue.

The Colwells are the latest in a string of tax fugitives caught and returned to face UK justice, including Mariusz Chorazy, Lieb Berger, Antonio De Sousa, Mbarak Gowie, Wayne Hardy, and Geoffrey Johnson.

Notes for Editors

  • More information about the fraud can be found in the news release issued at sentencing in January 2018.
  • Jamie Colwell (30/10/1966), aka Martin Johnstone, previously of Old Coastguard Road, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset. He was arrested by HMRC on 27 July 2015 and living in Christchurch, Dorset at the time. He pleaded guilty on 27 November 2017 to fraudulently obtaining the payment of VAT credit, contrary to sections 72(1) and (2) of the VAT Act 1994. He was sentenced in his absence to five years and three months in jail on 22 January 2018. He was also disqualified from being a director for 15 years. Warrants were issued for his arrest.
  • Brian Colwell (30/01/1942), a retired builder, previously of Hares Green, Bournemouth, Dorset. He was arrested by HMRC on 22 July 2015. He pleaded guilty on 23 November 2017 to acquiring criminal property, contrary to section 329(1) (a) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. He was sentenced in his absence to 32 months in jail on 22 January 2018. He was also disqualified from being a director for 15 years. Warrants were issued for his arrest.
  • Both men were arrested in Spain by Guardia Civil officers on 9 May 2018. They were returned to the UK on 23 May 2018, spending the night in custody, before appearing at Bournemouth Crown Court by video link on 24 May 2018.
  • Briony James (26/11/1972), a personal assistant and former equestrian, of Bouverie Avenue South, Salisbury, Wiltshire. She was arrested by HMRC on 22 July 2015 and lived in Woodfalls, Salisbury, Wiltshire at the time. She pleaded guilty on 27 November 2017 to fraudulently obtaining the payment of VAT credit, contrary to sections 72(1) and (2) of the VAT Act 1994. She was sentenced to 20 months in jail on 22 January 2018. She was also disqualified from being a director for five years.
  • Jamie Colwell pleaded guilty to the full fraud of £965,897. Brian Colwell admitted defrauding £178,487, and Briony James admitted fraud of £316,335.
  • Construction of new build properties is zero-rated under the VAT Act 2004. This means companies can reclaim VAT paid on legitimate construction costs incurred.
  • Photographs are available from HMRC’s Flickr channel www.flickr.com/hmrcgovuk
  • Anyone with information regarding suspected VAT fraud or the location of tax fugitives is encouraged to report it online at https://www.gov.uk/report-vat-fraud, or contact the HMRC Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887 or +44 203 080 0871 if calling from outside the UK.
  • Follow HMRC Press Office on Twitter @HMRCpressoffice

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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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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.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
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SW1A 2BQ London