Ex-policeman admits £300 million VAT fraud

A former police officer has admitted a £300 million VAT fraud believed to be the biggest in UK history.

Nigel Cranswick, 47, was a director of Ideas 2 Go (I2G), which he ran from a small office in a Sheffield business park, and claimed to have bought and sold at least £2 billion of goods in just eight months.

He has since admitted the firm's trading, largely in mobile phones and computer software, was fictitious, and the aim was to generate paperwork from fake sales in order to claim back a fortune in VAT from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

A source close to the case, which has taken five years to investigate, said it was believed to be the largest of its kind ever taken to court.

Prosecution documents said: "In its eight-month trading life I2G's business documentation reveals that it purported to buy and sell goods in many thousands of deals, to the value of at least £2 billion.

"This included about £300m of VAT, which it was purportedly charged by its suppliers.

"The trade was not genuine and this £300m was the target of the defendants."

The document continues: "Despite this phenomenal turnover of over £2 billion, I2G operated from a very small and modest office accommodation in a Sheffield business park.

"The defendants, who were its officers and employees and purported to carry out billions of pounds of business, had no previous experience in either the mobile phone industry or in running any business on such a grand scale."

Cranswick, of Danby Road, Kiveton, Sheffield, admitted conspiracy to cheat HMRC.

Brian Olive, 56, of Buttermere Close, Doncaster, and Darren Smyth, 42, of Beech Road, Maltby, Rotherham, admitted the same charge.

Cranswick's 44-year-old sister Clare Reid, of the same address as Smyth, admitted two counts of false accounting.

They pleaded guilty on the eve of a trial at Newcastle Crown Court and will be sentenced, along with two other defendants, next month.

Paul Rooney, HM Revenue & Customs assistant director for criminal investigation, said: "This was a sophisticated fraud designed to steal hundreds of millions of pounds of tax.

"HMRC investigators unravelled a complex web of fake business transactions fabricated to conceal the massive financial fraud."

Cranswick joined South Yorkshire Police in 1997, aged 33, and left the force a few weeks after I2G started trading in 2005. By then he and his wife, Nicola, owed £42,000 on top of their mortgage.

Within a few weeks of I2G starting, the couple could afford portraits costing £2,208, teeth bleaching at £700, landscaping at £4,725 and more than £3,100 of furniture.

Recruits to the supposed multibillion-pound business Olive and Smyth - Cranswick's brother-in-law - had previously worked as rail track maintenance men. I2G employed Reid as an administrator.

The prosecution document stated I2G's claimed £2 billion turnover in just eight months was "pure fantasy".

Those figures were based on the supposed purchase and resale of around 4.6 million mobile phones.

It was claimed I2G made sales of £527 million in its first six weeks of trading.

"Nobody, not even the simplest of men, could have ever believed that such a turnover could be achieved legitimately," the prosecution document said.

I2G had paperwork supposedly showing sales of phones that were not yet available, or at prices far above the real wholesale price.

Cranswick, who rented a villa in Marbella, Spain, styles himself as a singer-songwriter and can be seen on his website strumming a guitar to a song called Hit And Miss with the opening lines: "I'm in trouble, falling down a hole. How I got here, I won't ever know."

He is lead singer with an indie band called Not The Police.