Portsmouth HMRC employee Matthew Shirley stole more than £50,000 in tax rebates

A ‘greedy’ tax office official who stole more than £50,000 by funnelling rebates meant for ordinary taxpayers into his own accounts has narrowly avoided jail.

Friday, 1st July 2022, 12:07 pm
Updated Friday, 1st July 2022, 12:08 pm

Crooked Matthew Shirley diverted HMRC refunds of up to £16,000 that were due to be issued to eight 'dormant' accounts - including those belonging to dead people - to himself and spent them on 'goods and treats'.

The 31-year-old completed false records showing the money had gone to its intended recipients in a bungled attempt to ‘cover his tracks’.

Shirley, from Southsea, admitted eight counts of fraud and one of making an article for use in fraud.

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Matthew Shirley Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

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However, he avoided an immediate prison term and was instead handed a 20-month suspended sentence by His Honour Judge William Ashworth, who told him the money he had stolen was 'vital' to public services.

Judge Ashworth said: ‘There is no explanation for your behaviour other than greed to provide goods and treats that you couldn't afford.

‘The money has all been dissipated. Ultimately, that is money we all contribute to and money that is vital for public services.’

Matthew Shirley Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

Portsmouth Crown Court heard that HMRC has refunded the money to the accounts and is now in the process of trying to recover as much as possible from Shirley's family.

The court was told Shirley had worked as a tax operations officer at HMRC for around five years and committed the fraud between January 2019 and May 2020.

Prosecutor Aleks Lloyd told the court he stole the money in a series of ‘unsophisticated’ and fraudulent transactions after noticing ‘dormant’ accounts which were due tax rebates.

Mr Lloyd explained: ‘Mr Shirley was employed by HMRC as a personal tax operations officer. It was part of his job to issue refunds or rebates.

‘Mr Shirley made eight separate tax repayments totalling £54,573 and 36 pence.

‘He was dismissed because of an investigation. The investigation was in relation to one of the larger payments of £10,000.

‘Mr Shirley noticed an account was dormant because someone was outside of the country or had passed away.

‘He would report the money paid to the person but would pay it to one of his two accounts.

‘The losses have been rectified by HMRC. The financial harm is to HMRC.’

The court heard Mr Shirley also ‘falsified’ bank statements in attempts to 'disguise' his actions, suggesting he had repaid the money to the intended recipients.

‘There were various methods used to divert from what he was doing,’ Mr Lloyd added. ‘The fraud was not sophisticated but he was an employee at HMRC in a position of trust.’

Daniel Reilly, defending Shirley, argued his client was full of 'shame' and 'embarrassment' at his crimes, which he committed for no reason other than the belief that having more money would simply make life 'better'.

Mr Reilly said: ‘Mr Shirley enjoys a close relationship with his family – his partner, his mother and his brother.

‘Yet, until Saturday just gone, no-one else knew of the offending, no-one knew of the two years Mr Shirley had been trying to manage his thoughts and cope with the fact that this day would come.

‘There is no attempt of an excuse. He has spoken about there being no good reason why he acted the way he did.

‘He thought that, maybe, if he had more money that would make life better.’

The court heard Shirley's mother, a 62-year-old who works in a Co-op store, had offered her entire retirement savings fund of £7,000 to pay back some of the money.

Passing sentence, Judge Ashworth told Shirley he had abused his position of ‘power and trust’.

He said: ‘Using power that you had you paid sums into your own accounts and sought to cover your tracks.

‘You also produced a number of documents to forestall the money laundering inquiries that your bank would have to follow.

‘You forged documents to cover your tracks. You acted in abuse of a position of power and trust.’

In addition to receiving a suspended sentence, Shirley was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £425 in court costs, as well as a victim surcharge fee.

A proceeds of crime hearing has been scheduled for November to discuss the repayment of the money to HMRC.