Eccentric Leeds U-boat captain held over £1m fraud

Captain Richard Williams, with his reclipa U-boat, U-8047, at Thwait Mills Museum, Leeds.
Captain Richard Williams, with his reclipa U-boat, U-8047, at Thwait Mills Museum, Leeds.
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THE self-styled captain of a replica German submarine moored at a Yorkshire canal has been arrested and questioned as part of a £1m VAT fraud investigation.

Officers from Revenue and Customs boarded the converted barge which was tethered to a jetty behind the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds.

They arrested Richard Williams, 64, who styles himself as the captain of the vessel, which has been named U-8047.

Williams was arrested on Thursday morning on the narrowboat, which has been converted into a museum.

Officers conducted a detailed search of the narrowboat, which has been described as a realistic copy of a German U-boat.

Customs staff could be seen examining fittings and artefacts of the floating museum which has become well known to visitors to Clarence Dock since it was launched as an attraction last year.

It was reported at the time that a boat building firm in Liverpool had been commissioned to construct the £60,000 replica submarine to celebrate Williams’s birthday.

Williams’s family and friends, assisted by a feature film “dresser”. then fitted out the vessel with authentic items obtained on the internet.

The U-8047 Trust was formed as a social enterprise for the upkeep of the craft and for the education of children.

A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs confirmed that a 64-year-old man had been arrested in connection with a suspected £1m VAT fraud linked to fake sales of disability equipment.

Williams was arrested and bailed until April 19.

The early-morning raid was carried out by investigators from Revenue and Customs, assisted by UK Border Agency officers and local police. More arrests could follow.

The arrest follows a Revenue and Customs investigation, codenamed Operation Cloudcastle, into the alleged VAT fraud and subsequent laundering of the criminal proceeds.

Mike O’Grady, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ assistant director of criminal investigation said: “This is an HMRC-led investigation targeting a suspected VAT repayment fraud over several years and the laundering of the criminal profits by businesses based in Blackpool, Lancaster, Penrith and Workington.

“Further details cannot be provided at this early stage because our investigation is continuing.

“However, tax fraud and attempts to launder the proceeds of crime are treated extremely seriously by HMRC, and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or crime gangs believed to be attacking the public rev-enue in this way,” added Mr O’Grady.

• On his website, Richard Williams says his main hobby in life is boating and admits: “I’ve always been a bit eccentric.”

He once built a Star Trek Enterprise “bridge” in his front room and got inspiration for his submarine project from an “omen” after hearing the Beatles Yellow Submarine and then spotting a sub-making firm in Barrow during a drive to the Lake District. His canalboat-submarine has had thousands of visitors since 2010.