A MECHANIC who worked on the Top Gear motoring show has been jailed for 15 months after he helped convicted tax cheats flee abroad to evade justice.
Stephen Howard (60) assisted Jamie Colwell – who had lived at Friars Cliff, Christchurch – and his father Brian in their escape to Spain before the duo were sentenced for their high value scam.
He bought travel tickets for the pair, who knew they were going to prison, and hired a van to drive Brian to a hideout, Salisbury Crown Court heard.
The Colwells were convicted at Bournemouth Crown Court in 2017 for dishonestly claiming £965,897 in VAT repayments they spent on high-end properties, speedboats and expensive cars after they lied about spending £14m on building new properties.
Before they were sentenced they were given bail. Jamie had his passport confiscated but Brian did not and they hatched an elaborate plan to escape abroad together – with the help of Howard.
Jamie booked a flying lesson with an instructor and while on the flight, which was over the channel, Jamie – who was posing as a rich businessman – pretended to arrange a business meeting in France and persuaded the instructor to drop him off at a French airport.
Meanwhile he had hired Howard to drive to France via the Eurotunnel in his Porsche Cayenne before meeting up with him and handing over the car.
Howard also purchased a foot passenger ferry ticket from Portsmouth to Caen for Brian and rented a DAF box van and travelled via ferry from Portsmouth to Caen with Brian.
He then drove the van, which was loaded with Jamie and Brian’s furniture, through France and Spain, to the Colwells’ Benidorm hideout.
Howard’s sentencing hearing was told how after the pair fled the country Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) launched an investigation.
Links were established between the Colwells and Howard and during a search of the latter’s home in Chilton, Didcot, a detailed travel itinerary was found.
From that HMRC investigators pieced together the journey Howard helped the Colwells make and he was charged with perverting the course of justice.
Howard denied the charge and stood trial at Winchester Crown Court.
Howard, who helped build and modify specialist racing cars on the BBC1 Top Gear programme, claimed he had worked for the Colwells in the past but denied knowing anything about their crimes or court appearances. However, the jury found him guilty.
As reported in the A&T, the Colwells were brought back to the UK in mid-2018 after HMRC tracked them down to a Benidorm villa and got Spanish police to arrest them.
After being extradited the pair appeared before Bournemouth Crown Court. Jamie (52) was jailed for a total of five years and nine months, while Brian (77) was handed a prison term of three years and two months.