Sunk! Leeds ‘U-boat captain’ jailed over £1million VAT scam

CHOPPY WATERS: Richard Williams and Laurel Howarth

CHOPPY WATERS: Richard Williams and Laurel Howarth

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An eccentric boat enthusiast who lived a lavish lifestyle with cash from a £1 million tax con has been jailed.

Richard Williams, who adopted the title ‘Captain’ and lived on a narrowboat converted to resemble a German U-boat, set up a string of bogus companies supposedly selling disability furniture.

He then pocketed a fortune by claiming back the VAT he had supposedly paid.

The money was blown on boats, champagne and a “dissipated lifestyle”, Manchester Crown Court heard.

Williams also boasted that he drove a Mercedes with the number plate VAT100 and chartered a jet to fly to Paris to buy bespoke wallpaper.

The 55-year-old was arrested on board his mock submarine, which he moored at Clarence Dock in Leeds as a visitor attraction, in January 2012. His then wife, Laurel Howarth, who was involved in the scam, was also arrested.

Williams was jailed for four years and eight months after pleading guilty to cheating the public revenue and possessing false invoices for use in fraud.

Howarth, 28, admitted three counts of recklessly making VAT returns. She was jailed for 20 months.

Before sentencing Williams told reporters: “In five years we never sold one bed. We made a fortune but got caught, and I will take the punishment.

“We went all over the world like a couple who had won the National Lottery.

“We had a great time – now I’ll do the time.”

Sandra Smith, assistant director of criminal investigation at HM Revenue and Customs, said: “Williams and Howarth thought they had evaded HMRC’s investigators.

“They couldn’t have been more wrong. The pair went to great lengths to try and cover their tracks. Today’s sentences serve as a lesson to those who are tempted by the lure of fraud.”

THE CON

Williams pleaded guilty to cheating the public revenue and possessing false invoices for use in fraud.

He set up three companies – Sleepability.co.uk, Ortho-matic and Discount Mobility Store – all of which purported to sell disability equipment.

No products were ever actually sold but Williams claimed more than £1m in VAT returns by fabricating invoices which apparently showed legitimate sales.

A fourth company was closed down before it could be used for further fraud.

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