Two Shipston men have been sentenced for their part in a series of frauds following a two-year investigation by Warwickshire Police and HM Revenue and Customs.
Stephen Robert Murrall, 49, of New Street, and Peter Graham Harris, 47, of Watery Lane were jailed today at Warwick Crown Court while another man Henry Kerr from Vienna received a suspended sentence.
One of the focusses of the investigation centred on an attempt by Murrall and Harris to purchase Hartlepool United Football Club in December 2015.
They fraudulently obtained £50,000 from a company telling them they needed the money to satisfy the football league when in fact they needed it to replace gate receipts that they were not entitled to but had already taken from the football club’s accounts.
The initial investigation was launched in March 2015 after a company reported they loaned £500,000 to Murrall, on the pretence that he had a contract with the Maltese government and a letter underwriting the loan from a professional service company.
The court heard how Murrall forged these documents along with bogus bank statements and invoices, all of which were found on his computer.
More offences came to light throughout the investigation including a false invoice produced in 2014 for entertainment at a Banbury nightclub run by Murrall. The invoice had been produced by Murrall for entertainment supposedly provided by Kerr. The court heard that no entertainment had been provided and this was part of an attempt to fraudulently obtain £24,000 in VAT from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
In a separate incident in 2015, Kerr, Murrall and Harris, forged invoices to obtain more than £90,000 from another man.
Murrall pleaded not guilty to five counts of fraud but the jury found him guilty of all counts. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and disqualified from being a company director for nine years.
Harris pleaded not guilty to three counts of fraud but the jury found him guilty on two counts and not guilty on one count. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and disqualified from being a company director for six years.
Kerr had previously pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud and was given a 24 month suspended sentence.
Detective Constable Jenny Baker of Warwickshire Police said: “This type of large scale business and tax fraud sometimes seems detached from real life, but this is not the case. It is the offence at Hartlepool United, a football club at the heart of a community, that demonstrates the impact this type of offending has on members of the public from all walks of life.”
Commenting on the sentencing of Murrall and Kerr, Gary Forbes, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “These men were greedy; Murrall in particular selfishly attempted to steal money that should have been used to fund vital public services and they must now pay the price for their dishonesty. HMRC takes tax fraud extremely seriously and anyone deliberately choosing to steal taxes will be prosecuted. Working closely with Warwickshire Police, this is the culmination of a painstaking investigation into businessmen who thought they were above the law. If you suspect any type of financial fraud whether individuals or businesses I urge you to report it.”