Husband and wife jailed after raking in £1m fake VAT claims

Laurel Howarth.
Laurel Howarth.
  • Couple used identities of friends to make fraudulent VAT repayment claims
  • One of their companies was based in Lancaster
  • Pair ran fake submarine as a public attraction at docks
  • Duo continued to claim benefits during scam

A U-boat captain and his wife who hijacked their friends’ identities in order to fraudulently claim £1 million in VAT have been jailed.

Richard Williams, 55, and Laurel Howarth, 28, pretended to run a number of businesses selling specially-adapted beds for the disabled.

Richard Williams.

Richard Williams.

One of their companies, Ortho-matic, trading between 2007 and 2008, was based in Lancaster.

During the fraud, they transformed a canal barge into a replica World War II 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. They used the identities of Welsh and Lancastrian 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.

Sandra Smith, assistant director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said: “Williams and Howarth thought they had evaded HMRC’s investigators.

“The sentences serve as a lesson to those who are tempted by the lure of fraud.”

HMRC officers became suspicious of the business records supplied by Williams and arrested him during a dawn raid on his fake submarine in January 2012.

His wife was also interviewed under caution at Leeds Police Station later in February.

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

At Manchester Crown Court, Captain Richard Williams, of Redcar Road, Blackpool, pleaded guilty to four counts of cheating the public revenue and fraud on June 27, 2014 and was sentenced to four and half years in jail.

Laurel Howarth, of Redcar Road, Blackpool, pleaded guilty to three counts of VAT fraud on December 17, 2014 and was sentenced to 20 months in jail.

Howarth was also in receipt of benefits during the fraud.