'Stooges' used in £12m VAT fraud over new car importation jailed

THREE men who were used as "stooges" by a Bradford woman who masterminded a £12m VAT fraud involving the importation of new cars have been jailed for their role in the conspiracy.

The trio, including two men from the Bradford area, pleaded guilty to being part of a operation to cheat Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs which funded the luxury lifestyle of Jayne Mitchell.

Mitchell, a 40-year-old former secretary of Wilsden Road, Allerton, Bradford, was jailed for 10 years at the end of last month after she was found guilty of running the lucrative scam.

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The huge tax fraud involved bringing more than 7,000 new vehicles to Britain from across Europe, and a web of fake companies with a turnover of more than 80m over two years.

With the proceeds of her operation, Mitchell bought Ferraris and luxury properties and went on lavish shopping sprees.

Revenue officials said the cars were imported VAT free, passed through a chain of fake companies and were eventually sold on to unsuspecting car supermarkets and dealerships across the UK.

But many of the fake companies disappeared without paying the VAT due on the sales. The companies were spread around England including in Pudsey, Selby, the West Midlands and Northamptonshire.

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Mitchell, a well-known pigeon fancier, is originally from Selby, and had a luxury home near the North Yorkshire town and another in Belgium, where she was arrested.

Peter Green, 45, of Moorside, Cleckheaton, and Steven Hague, 49, of Beacon Road, Bradford, were each jailed on Friday for 21 months, while Russell Bakewell, 47, of Great Wyrley, Staffordshire, was locked up for 30 months.

A fourth defendant, Wayne Murden, 47, of Walsall, West Midlands, had his 12-month prison term suspended for two years and was made the subject of a two-year supervision order.

Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC accepted that the four men had played limited roles in the fraud as money launderers for Mitchell who he described as the "iron fist".

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But he said she needed a number of "pliant, willing and available stooges" to play their part.

The judge told the jailed trio at Bradford Crown Court that they had not fallen into the scheme accidentally and could not be described as innocents abroad.

He accepted, however, that the men were entitled to credit for their guilty pleas to the charge and the fact that their involvement in the fraud was up to seven years ago.

The court heard that Hague had told investigators: "I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I'm a scrap man at the end of the day." Hague claimed to have received about 10,000 from his involvement.

Green said he was going to be paid 50 for each car that he was involved with, but maintained that he had never received any money.

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