Shamed Perthshire businessman jailed for 32 months over £174,000 VAT fraud

© DC Thomson
Perth Sheriff Court.

A shamed businessman who cooked his books to dodge VAT totalling more than £174,000 and then spent five years trying to dodge justice has been jailed for 32 months.

Stuart Newing-Davis repeatedly falsified accounts to prop up the failing firms he ran as co-director alongside his wife Sarah.

He siphoned-off the money, tens of thousands of pounds at a time, from his recruitment and training firm, Trainpeople.co.uk, and used it to prop up Ptarmigan Transport Solutions.

Newing-Davis was caught out by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) but nonetheless tried every trick in the book to avoid custody.

He first attempted to throw investigators off his scent by blaming bookkeepers and accountants for the fraud.

Then he turned legal proceedings into some of the most torturous and complicated in the history of Perth Sheriff Court.

He repeatedly changed legal teams, preventing the case from taking significant steps forward, as prosecutors and solicitors pored through thousands of pages of documentary evidence.

After finally accepting his own complicity and pleading guilty to five charges of fraud, he asked the court to discount his sentence given his “early plea”.

And he attempted to use his wife’s ill health to dodge a spell behind bars, even though he now lives full time in London while she and his children reside in France.

Among those in court to see him finally sentenced were members of the Perth and Kinross business community who had been hurt by the eventual collapse of the Newing-Davis’ empire.

The couple launched their businesses in 2004 and initially enjoyed some success, but Kevin McCallum QC said a further venture, in 2009, had failed, costing them £250,000.

He told the court they had never been able to recover from that as it had wiped out their cashflow and illustrated the frailty of their business model.

Many of the couple’s suppliers required payment in advance, he said, while his client had to wait for payment from those to whom he provided services.

With money tight, Mr McCallum said his client had made “a wrong decision” and begun to hide money from HMRC.

Once irregularities were spotted, the agency’s criminal investigations team launched a major probe into the businesses’ finances.

They discovered five months in which the accused had severely under-declared his VAT by falsifying his returns.

When challenged over the fraud, he attempted to blame those who had assisted him over the years, including bookkeepers and accountancy firms.

They categorically denied his allegations, but it took detailed analysis of the two firm’s accounts to finally unravel his deceit.

Newing-Davis, formerly of Bankfoot, pleaded guilty to five charges of fraudulently evading VAT totalling £174,179.33 while a director of Trainpeople.co.uk on dates between March 3, 2010 and June 7, 2011.

The court heard he was now a London bus driver who had a roof over his head thanks to the generosity of the YMCA.

No details were offered of his wife’s arrangements in France. Sarah Newing-Davis had initially appeared as co-accused in connection with the charges.

A regretful Sheriff William Wood told her husband: “It does me no good to sentence you to 32 months’ imprisonment.

“You are someone who has clearly tried to do his best but this was a substantial fraud on the taxpayer.

“You were the person in control. It is you who is culpable.

“When the opportunity came to be honest or dishonest, over a period of months, you chose the latter.

“For that there is a price you must pay.”

HMRC could yet pursue Newing-Davis under proceeds of crime legislation.

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