Jail for builder who fraudulently claimed £730k from HMRC – and gambled it away

The scales of justice. Ian Nicholson / PA
The scales of justice. Ian Nicholson / PA
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A BUILDER who gambled away more than £730,000 he fraudulently claimed in tax has been jailed.

Clanfield developer Peter Howes was sentenced to 32 months behind bars when he appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court on Wednesday.

It brought an end to the unemployed father-of-two’s six-a-half-year campaign of fraud, which saw him bank and gamble £730,072.09 in VAT from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The court heard the 58-year-old of Saxon Close, Waterlooville, began claiming for ‘fictitious’ project repayments in June 2011, to chase debts amassed by his Stubbington-based new-build firm, PD Howes Building and Development.

But unknown to HMRC, the company fell into receivership in 2009.

In a bid to stay ‘under the radar’ of the authorities, Helen Dawson, prosecuting, said Howes made monthly claims for sums ‘just less’ than £10,000.

But the court heard his time was up in October last year, when the department investigated their ‘raised suspicions’ and intercepted two payments worth £19,875 – with all previous cash blown on betting.

Ms Dawson said: ‘The defendant made submissions to HMRC claiming he was entitled to repayments for services and expenditure connected with his business.

‘The proceeds of this crime were spent on gambling, through Sky Bet and casinos.’

Judge William Ashworth was told the funds claimed by Howes had ‘vanished’ and were now unrecoverable, as a result of his addiction.

Mitigating, Daniel Reilly described Howes as ‘someone who lets all of his emotional baggage build up’ – and told the court how he failed to tell his family about his crimes until weeks before he was sentenced.

Mr Reilly said: ‘His wife thought any money the family did have was money he had won through gambling.

‘He was convinced he would be disowned if he told them the truth, but instead he was met by a reaction of love and support.

‘He felt like it was a weight lifted off his shoulders’.

Mr Reilly explained how debts had led to Howes losing the home he built for his family, forcing them to move in with his 88-year-old mother-in-law.

He also suffered a heart attack in May 2017 and his wife was forced to quit her job after battling with chronic arthritis.

Sentencing, Mr Ashworth said there was ‘no sophistication to speak of’ in Howes’ crimes, which he gave ‘early admission’ to in a voluntary police interview in January.

With Howes now behind bars, Richard Wilkinson, assistant director at HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: ‘He stopped working as a builder and used the tax system as his personal bank account. It is simply not acceptable to steal from UK taxpayers and the public services we all rely upon.

‘HMRC will continue to pursue those criminals who attack the tax system. We ask anyone with information about suspected VAT fraud to report it to us online or contact our fraud hotline on 0800 788 887.’