A farmer who stole £1.4 million of taxpayers’ cash in a VAT fraud to pay off Debt Collectors and Bailiffs it was claimed in court. It was also said his life became like “the most depressing omnibus edition of The Archers” has been jailed for three years.
Paul Hussell, 50, splashed out £70,000 on a Regal speed-boat and £38,000 on an Aston Martin DB9 sports car after swindling the money between the period 2008 and 2011.
A court heard Hussell spent £1.3m of the funds on trying to keep bailiffs and debt collectors at bay as he struggled to make enough money from his father’s farm, in the Cotswolds, England.
But after being arrested, he fled to Zimbabwe for nine months in February 2012 and failed to answer police bail despite requests.
Upon returning to the UK penniless having contracted malaria, Hussell was arrested for a second time after being found hiding in the bathroom of his rented cottage attached to the farm, by arresting revenue officials and police.
On Monday, he was sentenced to three years and four months in jail after he pleaded guilty to one count of fraud at Worcester Crown Court.
Sentencing, Recorder Graeme Cliff said: “Your family have a love affair with farming which is a difficult business at the best of times.
But you embarked on a reckless course of financial action and because of the amount involved I have no choice but jail you.”
“You deliberately and relentlessly over a period of time falsified documents in order to put HMRC off the scent whilst evading £1.4m in VAT.”
The court heard the family farm he ran in the Cotswolds had been plagued with problems – including foot and mouth, TB and the floods of 2007 – which left him financially crippled.
The farm made a very small profit on an annual turnover of £90,000 and it was a struggle to make enough to keep two families.
David Gold, defending, said: “It is like the most depressing omnibus edition of The Archers.
There were three generations of the family.
They had a pride in what they did but struggled against the odds.
The financial pressure was relentless. Failure would mean the loss of everything.”
The court heard he took over the accounts of Ashbury Farm, Kemerton, Worcestireshire, in 2008 following the death of his mother.
Hussell’s father Gordon had been a tenant farmer for many years but any small profit the mixed arable and livestock farm went towards keeping the overdraft within its £100,000 limit.
Farms are zero-rated for VAT and are able to claim back money from the revenue and customs against purchases.
But Hussell made excessive claims to the value of £200,000 over a three-month period in 2011 and sparked some suspicion and an investigation.
Following his arrest in November 2011, it was discovered he had made claims totalling £1,415,745 from 2008 to 2011.
When his fraud was uncovered, the corrupt farmer tried to keep fraud investigators off the scent by falsifying invoices.
They found in total he had made more than 41 fraudulent VAT repayment claims over the three year period.
Speaking after the hearing, Colin Spinks, assistant director of criminal investigation at HM Revenue and Customs, said: “Justice has finally caught up with Paul Hussell who fled the UK to avoid facing up to his crimes.
In the end, after a lengthy investigation by our officers, he pleaded guilty to this sizeable VAT fraud and is now paying the price for his criminal activities.”
A proceeds of crime hearing is to take place in the future, when an order to reclaim some of the fraudulently claimed money could be made.