Jury out in £5million tax website fraud case

From left, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.
From left, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.

A jury trying the cases of four men accused of running a scam tax return website has retired to consider its verdicts.

Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes, Stephen Oliver, and Richard Hough, are alleged to have made £5m in five months from taxreturngateway.

Wyatt, 27, of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Seaham, Hughes, 26, formerly of Hutton Henry, now also of Peartree Rise, Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, and Hough, 43, of Thorpe Waterville, Kettering, Northants, each deny conspiracy to defraud between June, 2013, and June, 2014.

Wyatt, Hughes, and Oliver deny a second charge of conspiring to defraud by denying consumers the right to cancel under distance selling regulations.

The site, which was based in offices in North Hylton Road, Sunderland, charged users a fee of between £150 and £350 to submit their self-assessment tax returns.

Prosecutors claim the site was deliberately designed to mimic the official Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) site, and to fool users into thinking they were dealing directly with HMRC.

During six weeks of evidence, the jury heard from a string of users who said they thought money paid to the site would come off their tax return, but it was kept by the site as fees.

Hundreds of people complained to trading standards departments across the country, and the site was the subject of negative publicity.

The defendants claim the site was not designed to look like the HMRC site.

The men said taxreturngateway was a legitimate business.

They say it offered people a more modern way to submit their return than HMRC did at the time

A disclaimer on the site’s homepage made it clear the site was operated by a private company, the court heard.

Oliver told the jury the site was designed to be ‘official looking’ because he wanted to give customers the impression they were dealing with a reputable company.

The jury was told the site used similar colours to the HMRC site.

Oliver said many accountancy and financial companies used those colours for their websites because studies had shown they were the colours most trusted by users.

Judge Stephen Ashurst sent the jury home yesterday.

The panel was due to resume its deliberations this morning.