‘Smoke and mir­rors’ of web sites

Sunderland Echo - - News - By Rob Freeth rob.freeth@jpress.co.uk Twit­ter: @sun­der­lan­de­cho

A web de­signer asked to re­design an al­leged scam tax re­turns site said he didn’t want to re­veal the “smoke and mir­rors” too early in the pay­ment process.

The taxre­turn­gate­way site took £5.47mil­lion in five months in fees from users, who were charged up to £1,000 each.

Manyuser­sthought­their money was go­ing di­rectly to Her Majesty’s Rev­enue and Cus­toms (HMRC), Teesside Crown Court heard.

Pros­e­cu­tors claim the web­site was de­lib­er­ately de­signed to mis­lead users into be­liev­ing they were deal­ing di­rectly with HMRC.

In an­other email, web de­signer Mike Kenny said that “peo­ple might be in­clined to catch on” if their tax es­ti­mates pro­vided by site were in round numbers.

“You might like to con­sider if that is the lan­guage of a le­git­i­mate busi­ness,” pros­e­cu­tor Jonathan San“Say­ing di­ford told the jury.

Jamie Wy­att, Michael Hughes, Stephen Oliver and Richard Hough are all ac­cused of fraud in re­la­tion to their taxre­turn­gate­way web­site, which was run from of­fices in Sun­der­land.

Mr Kenny is named as a co-con­spir­a­tor, but is not on trial.

Clos­ing his re­marks to the jury, Mr San­di­ford said:

“The in­ten­tion was to de­ceive users so they as­sumed the ma­jor­ity of their pay­ment was used for what can only have been their tax bill to HMRC.”

The jury was told the web­site came “un­der pres­sure” af­ter users com­plained­tothePress,Trad­ing Stan­dards and HMRC.

Amanda Bowring, a lawyer em­ployed by HMRC, said: “We were get­ting com­plaints, there was clearly con­fu­sion in the minds of the pub­lic.”

Gra­ham Trem­bath QC, de­fend­ing Oliver, said: “There was a dis­claimer on the taxre­turn­gate­way site, which also said they were a reg­is­tered agent of HMRC.

they are a reg­is­tered agent for HMRC clearly says they are not HMRC.”

Ms Bow­ing replied: “As a gen­eral pol­icy, HMRC ask agents not to use their reg­is­tra­tion sta­tus in pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial.”

MrTrem­bat­h­saidHMRC had pre­vi­ously sug­gested changes to the site, which the de­fen­dants had made promptly.

He likened the site’s ser­vice to the ‘check and send’ ser­vice of­fered by the Post Of­fice to peo­ple ap­ply­ing for a pass­port.

Ms Bowring agreed the changes had been made.

Jamie Wy­att, 27, and Michael Hughes, 26, both of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Sea­ham, Stephen Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, and Richard Hough, 43, of Thorpe Water­ville, Ket­ter­ing, Northants, deny con­spir­acy to de­fraud be­tween June, 2013, and June, 2014.

Wy­att, Hughes, and Oliver deny a sec­ond charge of con­spir­ing to de­fraud by deny­ing con­sumers the right to can­cel un­der dis­tance sell­ing reg­u­la­tions.

From left, Jamie Wy­att, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.

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