Duo jailed over VAT fraud

Ian Clarke Two recruitment firm directors who played a key role in a major VAT fraud centred on employment of migrant workers in East Anglia's farming industry have been jailed.

Ian Clarke

Two recruitment firm directors who played a key role in a major VAT fraud centred on employment of migrant workers in East Anglia's farming industry have been jailed today.

Almost £1m which should have gone to HM Revenue and Customs was shared out between members of a group of fraudsters, headed by Norfolk gangmaster Peter Wing.

Norwich Crown Court heard that over a three-year period false documents were produced by Wing, 53, who was company secretary of Swaffham-based Brook Staffhire, and also Robert Peace, Grant Hudson and Michael Bignell.

Peace, Hudson and Bignell were directors of other recruitment companies and between them they “dishonestly manipulated” the tax system in relation to employing hundreds of Portuguese and Eastern European workers.

The court was told Wing - the “driving force behind the fraud” - also cheated the Revenue out of £1m in PAYE and National Insurance payments which had been deducted from workers' wages.

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Wing has been involved with running a string of businesses and organisations in the town, including Swaffham Motorsports, the Norfolk Portuguese Club, the White Hart and the Goldmine as well as serving as chairman of the town's football club.

Wing, 53, of Meadow Road, Narborough, has admitted conspiracy to cheat the Revenue out of PAYE and National Insurance and has asked for a further offence of conspiracy to cheat the Revenue out of VAT to be taken into account. He will be sentenced at a later date.

Peace, 51, of Thurnscoe, Rotherham, who was a director of 1st Move Recruitment and Worldforce UK (Personnel), was jailed for 30 months and disqualified from being a company director for five years.

Hudson, 49, of Tintwistle, Glossop, was a director of Rock Recruitment and 1st Move Recruitment, and he was jailed for 15 months and disqualified for three years.

They both admitted conspiracy to cheat the Revenue out of VAT. A charge of conspiracy involving PAYE was ordered to lie on the file.

Amanda Gilding, 35, of The Oaklands, Swaffham, was a director and office manager of Brook Management and falsified three payroll records in September 2005.

She admitted one count of false accounting and had two similar offences taken into consideration.

The court was told Gilding had “been suspicious” of wrong doing - and “the suspicion hardened to knowledge.”

Gilding was ordered to do 120 hours' community service and ordered to pay £250 costs and disqualified from being a director for 18 months.

Bignell, 57, of Dalton Lane, Rotherham, was a director of Worldforce UK and Worldforce UK (Personnel). He also admitted conspiracy to defraud VAT and will be sentenced at a later date.

After the case Det Con Geoff Peck, of Norfolk Police's economic crime unit, who led the three-year investigation, said: “I am very pleased with the results and they reflect the individuals' participation in the fraud.

“These offences, on the surface, appear to be strictly Revenue related but one must look at the bigger picture.

"The real victims are those lowly-paid migrant workers who are essential to the local economy.

"They had no reason to believe the that deductions from their wages were going anywhere else apart from the Revenue and that those deductions gave them some degree of potential benefits in the event of being laid-off, which is always like in this type of seasonal work."

Judge Alisdair Darroch told the defendants: “This was a substantial fraud going on for some time. Frauds on the Revenue effects everyone and taxpayers are rightly affronted when others cheat the system.”

John Anderson, prosecuting, said: “The reality was that the supposed supply of temporary staff from the supply companies to Brook Staffhire was a sham.”

Martin Evans, representing Gilding, said: “Her entire criminal conduct was within a single week and was a long time after the fraud committed by others had begun. She accepts she became suspicious over time and it hardened at the end to knowledge.”

He said Wing had been the “driving force behind the fraud.”

Colin Wells, for Hudson, said he was not a “prime mover” and had been “financially ruined” and made bankrupt by the case.

Peace's counsel Patrick Palmer said the ex-miner had been recruited to the conspiracy and was not the main organiser and had not enjoyed high living from the fraud.

After the case, Andy Armitt, from HMRC's Labour Provider Unit said: "These criminals have systematically manipulated the tax system on a major scale, taking advantage of their hundreds of vulnerable employees.”