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Fraudster hatched flying lesson escape plan to flee justice for £1m VAT scam

Jamie Colwell (left) and his father Brian
Jamie Colwell (left) and his father Brian

A FRAUDSTER escaped justice by persuading a flying instructor to drop him off in France after a lesson, a court heard.

Jamie Colwell, who lived in Friars Cliff, Christchurch,and his ailing father Brian knew they would be sent to prison following a case at Bournemouth Crown Court in January this year for a £1m VAT scam, so hatched a daring plan to flee the UK to avoid their fate.

Having had his passport confiscated by the courts, Jamie bought a second-hand Porsche Cayenne and enlisted a third party – who cannot be named for legal reasons – to drive his father to France and return with Brian’s passport.

That was then passed to Jamie, who booked a flying lesson in Kent by passing Brian’s passport off as his own.

During the lesson Jamie declined to take the controls, and when the plane entered French airspace he persuaded the instructor to leave him at an airport in the country. From there he met up with Brian and the pair fled to Malaga in Spain.

The plan was laid out in detail by prosecutor Tom Wilkins during a hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court, who explained the Colwells subsequently told the third party to drive their furniture to them in Spain in a rental van.

However, after their no-show at court Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigated and found paperwork relating to the Cayenne which led them to the third-party and the van.

Tracking the journeys of the van’s sat nav, HMRC swooped on the Colwells with the help of the Spanish authorities, Mr Wilkins said.

They were arrested abroad in May and brought back to the UK, where Jamie (51) was jailed for five years and three months and his 74-year-old father imprisoned for two years and eight months over the original tax fraud.

Mr Wilkins outlined the backstory when the Colwells appeared back before Bournemouth Crown Court on Friday to face the music over their failure to turn up to their January sentencing hearing.

Both defendants admitted an offence of breaching court bail conditions.

Judge Jonathan Fuller noted Jamie had hatched the plan because his father was ill and he feared that he would die in prison. Praising the investigative work of HMRC, the judge added six months jail time to the original sentences imposed on both Colwells.

“You were at large for five months,” said Judge Fuller. “You deliberately flouted the bail conditions in the way that has been described.”

As reported in the A&T the original tax fraud offences were committed by the Colwells alongside Jamie’s ex-girlfriend Briony James.

The fraud was masterminded by Jamie, who set up Robert Lloyd Properties Ltd and Belgravia Construction Services (South) Ltd. He told HMRC the two firms had spent £14m starting development projects, but an investigation later discovered that not a single brick had been laid.

His father, a retired builder, was a director of both firms, and his former partner a director of Robert Lloyd Properties. Jamie also posed as a fictional director called Martin Johnstone.

HMRC said the defendants used the businesses to claim fraudulent VAT repayments totalling nearly £966,000 between February 2009 and May 2015. Jamie spent £113,000 on renting a Sandbanks property, HMRC added, and a further £64,000 on cars including a Porsche 911.

His father rented a four-bedroom Bournemouth home, while Briony James, a personal assistant and former equestrian and dressage competitor, spent more than £100,000 stabling her horses, £40,000 on designer clothing and £38,000 on cars.

When HMRC swooped on the trio in July 2015, they arrested Jamie and he subsequently pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining the payment of VAT credit.

Brian, previously of Hares Green, Bournemouth, admitted acquiring £178,487 of criminal property, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Both men were banned from being company directors for 15 years.

Briony James, of Bouverie Avenue South, Salisbury, was the only one of the three who turned up to the original sentencing hearing, when she was given a 20-month jail term.

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