Fraudsters lived lavish lifestyle on £1.3m of taxpayer cash splashing out on luxury cars, holidays and Lego

Lee Hickinbottom. Photo: CPS

Fictitious transport firm boss Lee Hickinbottom conspired with his 34-year-old former partner, Tabatha Knott, to submit fraudulent VAT repayment claims to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) between 2014 and 2017.

Hickinbottom, 49, of Wolverhampton Street, Dudley, submitted most of the claims for his fabricated Solihull registered Serenity Community Transport business and provided false invoices.

He also admitted benefit fraud totalling £ 28,000.

Hickinbottom and his former partner, Knott, of Bennett Avenue, Dudley, spent stolen cash on luxury cars and dream holidays, visiting Disneyland, the Louvre in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York.

The pair paid £ 120,000 in cash to buy their house in Dudley and a further £ 127,000 on home improvements, including £ 22,741.20 on a luxury, high end kitchen, which featured a £ 3,000 Italian granite work surface, and more than £ 13,000 on a deluxe hot tub that had to be installed with a crane.

Hickinbottom also bought £ 20,000 of shares in a confectionary company, spent £ 4,220 supporting Everton Football Club and treated himself to more than £ 1,500 worth of Lego.

Nick Stone, assistant director of the Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Lee Hickinbottom and his former partner used stolen taxpayers’ cash to fund a lavish lifestyle that included hot tubs, holidays and home improvements they could not legitimately afford.

Lee Hickinbottom’s fleet of cars. Photo: CPS

“The majority of businesses and individuals pay the tax that is due, but we will relentlessly pursue the determined minority who refuse to play by the rules.”

HMRC officers uncovered the fraud when the claims were checked.

In a failed attempt to hide his criminality Hickinbottom moved cash between numerous personal bank accounts he had set up in his own name.

Other attempts included transferring £ 346,512 to family and friends, sending £ 76,908 to Knott.

His banking records proved that he spent more than £ 250,000 on a fleet of flash cars, including £ 83,157 on a Jaguar F pace, £ 57,720 on two Jaguar XFs and £ 62,089 on a Land Rover Defender.

Other lifestyle purchases included £ 18,847 spent on iTunes, £ 15,925 on Apple products, more than £ 1,000 on trips to Alton Towers and £ 4,220 spent supporting Everton Football club, including £ 970 on a pair of season tickets for him and Knott.

Hickinbottom also splashed out more than £ 1,500 on Lego and treated himself to build kits for The Avengers, Batman and Tower Bridge in London.

During a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court, in December 2020, Hickinbottom pleaded guilty to dishonestly claiming £ 28,000 of Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance between July 2013 and October 2016.

Hickinbottom and Knott were found guilty of VAT fraud on Friday following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

Knott was also convicted of money laundering offences.

Hickinbottom has been remanded into custody ahead of sentencing which has been scheduled for May 20 at Birmingham Crown Court.

Anamarie Coomansingh, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Taxpayers’ money, which should have been spent on vital public services such as the NHS, education and social care was instead used to fund the unearned and extravagant lifestyle these defendants enjoyed.

“The CPS will be inviting the court to put in place measures to prevent Lee Hickinbottom, a career criminal, from committing similar offences in the future. We will also be pursuing confiscation proceedings. “

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