Leeds men avoid jail over £45,000 VAT fraud

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Two men who set up a fake property development firm in order to make false VAT claims worth £45,000 have avoided being sent to jail.

Best friends Steve Prentice and David Birdsall made up false invoices and documents from a firm of accountants and a construction company before submitting them to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Leeds Crown Court heard the company the pair registered – Rose Wharf Residential Development – never actually traded after being set up in 2008.

Prentice, 46, of Bramham Road, Thorner, was registered as the company director, with Birdsall, 45, of The Firs, Scarcroft, the secretary and accountant.

The offences came to light last year after the company was made the subject of a VAT inspection by HMRC officials.

Both men pleaded guilty to fraudulently submitting VAT repayment forms.

Simon Bickler, mitigating for both men, said the offence happened after Prentice returned to the UK in 2007 after spending 20 years working in Australia.

He was unable to find work in this country due to the economic crisis and needed money to visit his wife in Thailand and support his ill mother.

The barrister said Birdsall, who was an accounting technician with his own company, become involved in the offence to help his friend and lost his business as a result.

Mr Bickler said the two men had been close friends since the age of 13 when they were pupils at school in Boston Spa.

The court heard the two men were now running betting shops in Yorkshire and Lancashire and could lose those businesses if they were jailed.

Judge Guy Kearl QC told the men: “I do consider that this was a professional and plainly dishonest enterprise.”

Prentice was given a 12 month sentence, suspended for two years, and 200 hours of unpaid work. Birdsall was given a nine month sentence, suspended for two years and 150 hours unpaid work. They were ordered to pay £3,205 costs.

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