A MAN acting as a front for criminals in a scam which defrauded the government out of more than £1 million in VAT and Income Tax – as well as illegally claiming over £14,000 in Income Support – has been jailed for 45 months.
David Stewardson, 56, of Hawthorn Crescent, Mayfield, was the operator of a security firm – trading as Westcoast Group Security – which provided cover for music festivals such as T in the Park and Glastonbury.
Fiscal Depute Isabel Clark told the court yesterday that during a four-and-a-half-year period more than £3m went through his personal bank account.
During this time he was also claiming benefits and failed to declare to the Department of Work and Pensions that he was running a business.
She said the bank became concerned because of the high amounts being put through the account and because the money was always withdrawn in cash. The matter came to light when Stewardson was unable to provide documentation to the authorities about National Insurance and VAT payments.
First offender Stewardson – who entered the dock using two walking sticks – had pleaded guilty to the fraudulent evasion of VAT, Income Tax, National Insurance and Income Support.
Appearing for sentencing yesterday, his solicitor, Massimo D’Alvito, told the court his client had been under a lot of pressure at the time of the offence and called for Sheriff Crowe to “show as much leniency as possible”.
Sheriff Crowe told him: “You allowed yourself to be used as a front for a security company and used your bank accounts to receive cheques totalling in excess of £3.2m which you withdrew in cash as soon as possible to the tune of £25,000 a week and paid these sums, apparently on orders from people you have chosen not to name, to their intermediaries whereby the money cannot be traced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
“People like you are regularly before the courts having been selected by criminals for their vulnerability and in the expectation that if discovered will not lead the authorities back to the planners and beneficiaries of the fraudulent scheme. Unlike many in such circumstances, your involvement was not a one-off incident or covering a short period of time.”
He added: “I find it astonishing that the banks handling your accounts, namely the Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank, did not bring to the attention of the authorities at a much earlier stage the deeply suspicious way in which you operated these accounts, withdrawing large sums of cash on a regular basis as soon as cheques had been cleared.”
The sheriff said only a custodial sentence could be imposed for such a scale of public fraud. Taking into account Stewardson’s previous good record, poor state of health and early pleas of guilty he sentenced him to 45 months, reduced from five years.