Ex-Top Gear mechanic jailed for helping tax fraudsters

A former mechanic, who helped to build and modify specialist racing cars on the BBC1 television show Top Gear, has been jailed for providing assistance to father and son who fled to Spain before they could be sentenced for a £1m VAT fraud

Stephen Howard, from Oxfordshire, helped Jamie Colwell and his father Brian leave the country, but the pair have since been extradited back to the UK and are currently serving prison sentences totalling almost eight years.

An HMRC investigation found that Howard bought travel tickets for the father and son and hired a van to drive Brian Colwell to a hideout in Spain. During this time £2,900 was deposited into Howard’s bank account.

Ticket receipts and a detailed travel itinerary were discovered during a search of Howard’s home. HMRC investigators pieced together the journey Howard helped the Colwells make by examining the receipts, bank statements, and evidence from mobile devices.

This evidence proved Howard drove to France via the Eurotunnel in Jamie Colwell’s Porsche Cayenne before meeting up with Colwell and handing over the car. He purchased a foot passenger ferry ticket from Portsmouth to Caen for Brian Colwell, rented a DAF box van and travelled via ferry from Portsmouth to Caen with Brian Colwell.

Howard then drove the van, which was loaded with Jamie and Brian Colwell’s furniture, through France and Spain, to the Colwells’ Benidorm hideout.

Howard returned to the UK in the box van on January 14, 2018. On January 19 the Colwells failed to show in court and on January 22 they were sentenced in their absence.

Howard said he had worked for the Colwells in the past but denied knowing anything about their crimes or court appearances.

At Winchester Crown Court Howard was convicted of perverting the course of justice, and was subsequently given a 15 months prison sentence.

HMRC investigators used evidence from Howard’s phone to track the Colwells to a villa in Benidorm and they were arrested in May 2018.

The pair had been convicted for dishonestly claiming £965,897 in VAT repayments. While they claimed to have spent £14m building new houses, a HMRC investigation revealed not a single brick had been laid. The stolen money was spent on luxury purchases including a speedboat, expensive cars and renting a high-end property in Sandbanks, Dorset.

Following their extradition, Jamie Colwell was jailed for five years and three months, while his father Brian was jailed for two years and eight months. Both men were ordered to serve an extra six months for breaching bail.

Report by Pat Sweet

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