Disgraced former Lancs magistrate jailed for VAT fraud

A DISGRACED former Lancashire magistrate and property developer has been jailed for 40 months for his part in a VAT fraud worth nearly £1m.

Simon Price,44, who now lives in the Gloucester area, was sentenced along with his partner in crime, 45-year-old John Neil Smith, the boss of a Preston building firm, who received a 42 month jail term.

Price had pleaded guilty to 27 charges involving VAT fraud and falsifying documents at Bolton Magistrates Court in September 2012. Smith, 45, a had denied 11 similar charges and was found guilty of 10 at Manchester Crown Court on May 3.

The pair were arrested by HM Revenue and Customs officers in September 2011 in connection with fraudulent VAT claims totalling almost £1m, submitted by Price’s company, Ice Blue Development Ltd, between 2008 and 2010.

Simon De Kayne, assistant director criminal investigation at HMRC, said:
“This pair made incredibly crude attempts to falsify invoices and financial guarantees in a circle of fraudulent transactions.

“It was a complete cut-and-paste regime that unravelled as soon as HMRC officers investigated their business activities. The proceeds from the fraudulent VAT repayments were diverted into their bank accounts in an attempt to stave off their company’s and own domestic debts. The fact that Price was an acting magistrate in the Preston area at the time of the fraud makes it more shocking.

“Tax fraud is treated extremely seriously by HMRC and we will relentlessly pursue any individuals or criminal gangs believed to be attacking the Public Revenue in this way.”

The fraud involved companies within the Ice Blue group, controlled by Price, and Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd in Preston, controlled by Smith.

HMRC said a number of inter-company invoices had been created, purely to allow one company in the group, Ice Blue Developments Limited, to falsely reclaim VAT repayments from HMRC.

Price was responsible for all the VAT returns for the Ice Blue group and Smith was responsible for the building company’s paperwork.

During searches of business premises at Cottam Lane Business Centre, Preston, a huge number of false documents were seized. These include doctored invoices for building services received and faked references/correspondence from banks, solicitors and other institutions.

As well as the jail terms both men were banned from being company directors, Smith for five years and Price for six.

Before moving to Gloucestershire Price lived in Lytham St Annes. He became a magistrate in 2004, sitting in the Lancashire Magistrates Courts and subsequently in the Gloucester Magistrates Courts. He resigned in 2010 from being an active magistrate.