Leeds ‘U-boat captain’ splashed £1m from fraud on boats and bubbly

Richard William, with his reclipa U-boat at Thwait Mills Museum
Richard William, with his reclipa U-boat at Thwait Mills Museum
  • Richard Williams set up string of bogus companies to claim more than £1m in VAT
  • Spent the cash on champagne and boats
  • Arrested on board ‘u-boat’ moored at Clarence Dock
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A self-styled submarine captain defrauded the taxman of more than £1m which he splashed on boats, champagne and “behaving stupidly”, a court heard.

‘Captain’ Richard Williams was on benefits when he set up a string of bogus disability equipment companies which he then used to claim back huge sums of VAT that he had never paid.

[The money] has gone on a dissipated lifestyle... travelling around marinas, buying boats, drinking champagne and generally behaving stupidly and irresponsibly.”

Dominic Thomas, mitigating

Williams, 55, was arrested in January 2012 by tax inspectors on board his mock German U-boat, which he set up as a visitor attraction at Clarence Dock in Leeds.

Manchester Crown Court heard on Thursday the customised barge, which he spent tens of thousands of pounds converting to look like a German war vessel, had been bought with some of his ill-gotten cash.

Dominic Thomas, mitigating for Williams, added: “[The money] has gone on a dissipated lifestyle, on a nomadic existence, travelling around marinas, buying boats, drinking champagne and generally behaving stupidly and irresponsibly.”

The court heard between 2005 and 2010 Williams and co-defendant Laurel Howarth, from Blackpool, set up three different companies - Sleep Mobility, Discount Mobility Store and Authomatic.

All supposedly sold equipment and furniture for people with disabilities.

But the court heard no such goods were ever sold.

Referring to Sleep Mobility Richard Orme, prosecuting, said: “The business was only ever brought into existence as a vehicle for fraud.”

Williams, and his then partner Laurel Howarth, created false invoices to give the appearance of legitimate sales and then submitted fraudulent claims to HM Revenue and Customs for VAT repayments.

Many of the invoices suggested he had bought some of the goods from a company in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, called Cosy Sleep.

Mr Orme said: “Cosy Sleep confirmed they had never heard of or traded with either of the defendants.”

The court also heard that Williams had been born Steven Howarth but changed his name by deed poll to Richard Williams - and adopted the title ‘Captain - after meeting a man of that name.

He used the real Mr Williams’s address, date of birth and national insurance number to open a new VAT account and new bank accounts in order to continue the fraud.

In total, Williams and Laurel Howarth fraudulently claimed £1.017m.

Mr Orme said: “Richard Williams has, for a period of almost five years, through the setting up and use of three separate businesses, systematically cheated the public revenue out of just over £1m.”

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

Howarth pleaded guilty to submitting VAT returns, being reckless as to whether they were false.

Judge Recorder Michael Murry adjourned sentencing until today.

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