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Gloucestershire Business News

Fake invoices: Insurance company partner faces £1m bill for fraud

An insurance company partner who has wrecked his life and career by cheating the Inland Revenue out of almost £50,000 in tax was spared an immediate jail term at Gloucester Crown Court on Monday (January 15).

Martin Wright, 59, of East Lealands, Box, near Stroud, was a partner in nationwide insurance firm and living in a Cotswolds house currently estimated to be worth about £900,000 when he committed the false accounting offence against HMRC that led to his financial downfall.

The court was told that his offence is likely to cost him ten times what he made from the tax scam and he will probably have to sell his home to meet his debts.

On the day he was about to stand jury trial at Cirencester Courthouse yesterday, having denied two charges of fraud and three of forgery, Wright pleaded guilty at the last minute to a single alternative charge offered by the prosecution of false accounting.

The plea was accepted by prosecutor Simon Goodman and the fraud and forgery allegations were not proceeded with.

The offence Wright admitted was that between September 2, 2015, and August 14, 2019, with a view to gain for himself, or to cause loss to another, he falsified accounting documents - namely invoices that were misleading, false or deceptive.

The documents falsely showed that money had been paid to contractors for work carried out at a property he owned in High Street, Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire, said the charge.

Mr Goodman told the court that Wright owned the commercial premises in Wotton but had placed them into a tax efficient SIPP - a Self-Invested Personal Pension. He rented out the property and the income went into the pension scheme.

During the period covered by the charge, said Mr Goodman, the defendant was not entitled to draw money from the SIPP because he was still under the age of 55 at that time.

However, he did withdraw £120,000 by claiming it was for urgent repairs to his property and he forged invoices for work which had allegedly been carried out.

When Wright was in due course interviewed about the alleged frauds and forgeries he told investigators were 'a bit exaggerated,' said Mr Goodman.

In fact, said the prosecutor, they were 'completely false.'

"There was no work done to the property at all," said Mr Goodman. "He had lied to the SIPP scheme operators to get them to give him the money. He lied repeatedly.

"Nine payments were made from the scheme for a total of £121,281 and he got it all tax free and did not declare it on his tax returns.

"The total amount of unpaid tax was £48,620 and there are now also penalties due to HMRC totalling £43,299 as well as interest, which is accruing. This was not a victimless crime - the taxpayer is the victim."

Edd Hetherington, defending, said "This is all going to cost him about half a million pounds in total because he has lost his partnership in the firm of Weatherbys Hamilton - an industrial and agricultural land insurer. He is now disgraced in that field with his reputation dragged through the mud as a result of his frankly ludicrous actions.

"When he was interviewed by HMRC in 2021, he was asked how the invoices came about and he said 'I am sorry to say I made them up in order to get money out of my SIPP.'

"He said then that the work to his property was never done. He made up and printed the invoices."

Mr Hetherington said the money was in fact spent on a property he had bought but could not afford to keep up the payments on as well as maintain it in good repair.

"He made the deeply foolish decision to realise funds from his SIPP - which was only four years away from being lawfully accessed.

"He will now lose his house because the amount he owes is out of proportion to what he now earns. He has put himself in an awful mess.

"He has children, one of whom is still a student, and he has had to explain to them that he can no longer support them financially because he has committed fraud. He has lost out to the tune of about ten times the benefit he got from realising funds."

The judge, Recorder Malcolm Gibney, told Wright "It was a ridiculous gamble you took in seeking to withdraw from your SIPP. You took out significant sums of money over a four-year period to fund, it seems, your lifestyle and some remedial work to a property you owned.

"You did it clearly aware that you were not entitled to. It had gone into a SIPP which has tax advantages and you were not of an age to draw any funds, let alone the £120,000 that you did draw.

"You have effectively lost to a multiple of ten times that which you avoided in terms of tax.

"That, together with your loss of employment, reputation and ability to earn the sort of living you had hitherto enjoyed, means you have lost the equivalent of half a million pounds. That has no doubt had a profound effect on your wife and family.

"It has cost you your good character and your ability to work in the field in which you have worked for many years. You are the author of your own misfortune."

Wright was sentenced to 21 months jail suspended for 2 years and ordered to pay £1,200 costs within three months.

"The Revenue will recover fully all that has been lost in civil proceedings," said the judge. "One of the consequences of that may be that you will lose your home."

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