Harrogate man who set up sham horse trading business is jailed over £280,000 tax fraud

A phoney North Yorkshire horse trader who attempted to avoid an investigation into a £280,000 tax fraud by lying about having cancer has been jailed.

Christopher Stone, 35, of Albany Avenue, Harrogate, claimed to have spent £1.4m on horses, riding equipment and vet bills in a bid to generate VAT repayments for Otley-based SS Equestrian.

But the business was a sham, and when HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asked for a meeting to discuss his tax affairs, Stone said he was travelling to the USA for terminal cancer treatment – and wouldn’t be available for two months.

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Meanwhile, enquires with the US embassy proved the conman had not travelled to the United States.

Paul Barton, assistant director of HMRC's Fraud Investigation Service said: “This was a despicable attempt to avoid justice by a crook desperate to save his own skin.

"Stone tried to manipulate a system that exists for the benefit of legitimate and hardworking businesses, covering his tracks with a shameful lie."

The three-year fraud was uncovered when checks with Stone’s alleged suppliers revealed invoices used to support the VAT refund claims were fake.

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Bank statements provided to HMRC were doctored to include bogus sales and purchases.

Investigators concluded SS Equestrian had not engaged in any legitimate trade and was established purely to steal VAT, totalling £272,288.62 between 2011 and 2014. A further claim for £8,763.11 was withheld.

Stone was arrested at his then-home in Uxbridge, West London, in October 2015, and refused to answer any questions relating to the fraud.

He pleaded guilty to cheating the public revenue at Isleworth Crown Court on March 3 and was sentenced to 33 months in prison at the same court yesterday.

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Mr Barton said: "HMRC will continue to pursue those criminals who think stealing from the public is a legitimate way to do business.

"If you know of anyone committing VAT fraud you can report them by calling our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”