PR guru Hillgrove given suspended sentence for non-payment of tax

A public relations consultant with a string of celebrity clients who has been found guilty of failing to pay almost £100,000 in taxes has been given a suspended jail sentence after a court heard he used the money to fund his lifestyle.

Bristol Crown Court found Richard Hillgrove guilty on two counts of tax fraud between 1 March 2011 and 12 June 2012. Although his company, Hillgrove Public Relations Ltd, charged VAT to clients, he failed to pay £52,000 VAT to HMRC, along with almost £45,000 in tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) deducted from his employees’ wages.

Somerset-based Hillgrove, whose clients include Trudie Styler and Dragon’s Den businessman James Caan, has now been sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £5,000 in costs.

Hillgrove was arrested in June 2012 and claimed he had spent the money on his business. However, HMRC enquiries revealed a higher than expected level of personal spending, including private schooling, health club memberships, treatments at beauty salons and purchases at Louis Vuitton.

During his trial, where he represented himself, Hillgrove claimed he was ‘not a tax fraudster’. The company had experienced cashflow difficulties and an agreement was made for the tax due to be paid in instalments. Hillgrove said he was ‘buying time’ by not paying immediately but had always intended to pay the taxes.

Sentencing Hillgrove, the judge said that some of his claims during his trial had been ‘unpleasant’, noting that ‘there may have been an enthusiastic and tenacious prosecution but this was not a conspiracy against you. To suggest that it was is ludicrous’.

Recorder Robert Linford said: ‘You told the jury that in the public relations world there’s an expectation that public relations consultants take their clients out and spend money on them to keep them as customers. I have no doubt at all that the desire to keep customers sweet explains some of the extravagant spending. It does not explain the trip to Madeira or the expensive 30th birthday party for your wife.’

Colin Spinks, HMRC assistant director, criminal investigation, said: ‘Richard Hillgrove thought he could get aware with failing to declare or pay the tax he owed. He subsequently launched a public campaign against HMRC.

'Our message is clear - we will always thoroughly, diligently and appropriately investigate anyone suspected of tax fraud. We do this on behalf of honest businesses and taxpayers who quite rightly expect everyone to pay what it is due, when it is due.’

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