Dudley fraudster who stole £1.3m in tax jailed

A FICTITIOUS transport firm boss who stole £1.3m in tax and spent it on flash cars, holidays, home improvements and Lego has been jailed for eight years.

Lee Hickinbottom, aged 49, of Wolverhampton Street, Dudley, conspired with his 34-year-old former partner, Tabatha Knott, of Bennett Avenue, Dudley, to submit fraudulent VAT repayment claims to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) between 2014 and 2017.

With the stolen cash the pair enjoyed dream holidays and visited Disneyland, the Louvre in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York. They also spent hundreds of thousands of pounds buying and improving their Dudley home, which included splashing out more than £13,000 on a luxury hot tub that had to be installed with a crane.

Hickinbottom also spent more than £250,000 on luxury cars, £4,220 supporting Everton Football club, £18,847 on iTunes, £15,925 on Apple products and more than £1,500 on Lego.

Nick Stone, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “This was a sustained attack on the tax system that funds the vital public services we all rely on.

“Lee Hickinbottom stole from taxpayers to feed a love of Lego sets, luxury cars, and top of the range hot tubs. He was driven by greed. He enjoyed holidays and a lavish lifestyle that most honest, law-abiding taxpayers’ can only dream of.

“His sentence sends a very clear warning that we can and will bring tax fraudsters before the courts to face justice. We encourage anyone with information about any type of tax fraud or money laundering to report it to us online.” 

Hickinbottom submitted most of the fraudulent VAT claims for his fabricated Solihull registered Serenity Community Transport business and provided false invoices.

HMRC officers uncovered the fraud when the claims were checked. 

During a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court, in December 2020, Hickinbottom pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming £28,000 of Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance between July 2013 and October 2016.  

Lee Hickinbottom and Tabatha Knott were found guilty of VAT fraud on 25 March 2022 following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court. Knott was also convicted of money laundering offences.  

Lee Hickinbottom was sentenced to eight years in prison at Birmingham Crown Court on 20 May 2022.

Tabatha Knott was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, at Birmingham Crown Court on 20 May 2022.

Confiscation proceedings are underway to recover the stolen money.