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6th Jul, 2022

Tax fraud funded lavish lifestyle Birmingham Crown Court hears

Ross Crawford 23rd May, 2022

A FORMER Redditch resident has been jailed for eight years after stealing £1.3million in tax.

Birmingham Crown Court heard Lee Hickinbottom, 49, formerly of Exhall Close in Redditch and now of Wolverhampton Street, Dudley, conspired with his former partner, Tabatha Knott, 34, of Bennett Avenue, Dudley, to submit fraudulent VAT repayment claims to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) between 2014 and 2017.

Twelve years ago, the former manager of an amateur football team in Redditch was fined and sentenced to 32 weeks jail, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community after pleading guilty to stealing more than £6,000 of a Lottery grant to pay for equipment.

In this latest case, the court heard Hickinbottom and Knott enjoyed dream holidays and visited Disneyland, the Louvre in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York.

They also spent hundreds of thousands of pounds buying and improving their Dudley home, which included splashing out more than £13,000 on a luxury hot tub that had to be installed with a crane.

Hickinbottom spent more than £250,000 on luxury cars, £4,220 supporting Everton Football club, £18,847 on iTunes, £15,925 on Apple products and more than £1,500 on Lego.

Nick Stone, assistant director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a sustained attack on the tax system that funds the vital public services we all rely on.

“Lee Hickinbottom stole from taxpayers to feed a love of Lego sets, luxury cars, and top of the range hot tubs. He was driven by greed. He enjoyed holidays and a lavish lifestyle that most honest, law-abiding taxpayers’ can only dream of.

“His sentence sends a very clear warning that we can and will bring tax fraudsters before the courts to face justice. We encourage anyone with information about any type of tax fraud or money laundering to report it to us online.”

Hickinbottom submitted most of the fraudulent VAT claims for his fabricated Solihull registered Serenity Community Transport business and provided false invoices.

HMRC officers uncovered the fraud when the claims were checked.

During a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court, in December 2020, Hickinbottom pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming £28,000 of Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance between July 2013 and October 2016.

Hickinbottom and Knott were found guilty of VAT fraud on March 25, 2022 following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court. Knott was also convicted of money laundering offences.

Hickinbottom was sentenced to eight years in prison at Birmingham Crown Court on May 20, 2022.

Knott was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years.

Confiscation proceedings are underway to recover the stolen money.

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