PR man walks free over £97,000 tax
A public relations adviser who failed to pay almost £100,000 in tax after spending the money on "himself, his family and his business" has walked free from court.
Richard Hillgrove, 42, failed to pay HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) £52,268 of VAT charged to customers of his company, Hillgrove Public Relations Limited, in 2011 and 2012.
Hillgrove, of Somerton, Somerset, deducted £44,846 in taxes from the wages of his employees during the same period but failed to pay it to HMRC.
The public relations adviser denied both charges but was convicted by a jury of five men and seven women following a three-week trial in March.
Bristol Crown Court heard Hillgrove made "extravagant" purchases of luxury accommodation, meals and school fees.
This left his company with "cash flow issues", which Hillgrove "failed to grasp", and he continued to withdraw too much money, the jury was told.
Hillgrove, who represented himself in court, remained emotionless as Recorder Robert Linford sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.
"In respect of both counts, it is quite clear from the perusal of your bank accounts you were servicing a lifestyle that you simply couldn't afford," the judge said.
"You told the jury that in the public relations world there's an expectation that public relations consultants take their clients out and spend money on them to keep them as customers.
"I have no doubt at all that the desire to keep customers sweet explains some of the extravagant spending. It does not explain the trip to Madeira or the expensive 30th birthday party for your wife."
The judge said Hillgrove's defence during his trial had been "unpleasant" at times.
"There may have been an enthusiastic and tenacious prosecution but this was not a conspiracy against you," he added. "To suggest that it was is ludicrous."
Hillgrove's wife Lois, who supported her husband from the public gallery, collapsed and had to be helped from the courtroom as the judge indicated the sentence would not be custodial.
The judge also ordered Hillgrove to pay £5,000 towards prosecution costs and complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
"If you take my advice, you will go back to work as a public relations consultant. You are apparently very good at that work," the judge said.
"You need to rebuild your life and pay the Government what you owe them."
Hillgrove denied two charges of cheating the public revenue - one relating to VAT and the second to income tax and National Insurance - between March 1 2011 and June 12 2012.
During the trial, prosecutor Joss Ticehurst said money that should have been paid to HMRC was used to fund hotels, restaurants and fees at Millfield School.
Mr Ticehurst said Hillgrove should have "trimmed down" his spending to pay the taxman but failed to do so - as he never intended to hand over the money owed.
"This was a deliberate act on the part of Mr Hillgrove to not pay his taxes," Mr Ticehurst said today.
"It wasn't simply a one-off, this was for the period of a year. For the period of a year at the start of a new company, and on the back of a history of poor payment of taxes.
"The position, from the prosecution's point of view, is that Mr Hillgrove may want to be able to say 'never again shall I be dishonest in terms of paying my taxes'.
"But it is very unlikely that he is going to persuade your honour that he might not find himself in a bit of a muddle in the future."
Mr Ticehurst said that between March 2011 and May 2012, Hillgrove's customers were billed for work he carried out, plus VAT.
But the VAT receipts - which added up to around £52,269 - were not declared to HMRC and Hillgrove's company failed to complete a tax return.
During the same period, Hillgrove allegedly deducted taxes under the pay as you earn (PAYE) scheme and National Insurance from employees at his PR firm.
But instead of forwarding the money - a total of £44,800 - to HMRC, Hillgrove kept it for himself, Mr Ticehurst said.
"The maximum amount (unpaid) for PAYE and VAT is £97,115," the prosecutor said.
Hillgrove told the judge he was working in London five days a week to pay overheads of £18,000 per month.
"I have always done ringing the newspapers and getting people who want to be on television and get their stories across," he told the judge.
"I can't do that if the sentence is custodial."
He did not offer any personal mitigation in court but handed a folder of letters to the judge for consideration.