Former football boss jailed for tax evasion

Indeed, as Susan, the former Darlington Football Club chairman's glamorous younger wife, pointed out, the only difference between her husband and God is that God never claims to be George Reynolds.

Yesterday, as the 69-year-old was sentenced to three years' jail, alongside his cousin Richard Tennick, for cheating the taxman out of £650,000, that arrogance was evident. Arriving in court, he gave a V-sign for victory, declaring the case was a "witch hunt".

Reynolds was orphaned at eight, abused at borstal, and entered into a spectacularly unsuccessful career as a safe cracker before a Catholic prison chaplain convinced him to become an entrepreneur. His determination led him to amass a fortune of £260m, and at one point a place as Britain's 87th richest man. That veneer of respectability and his assertion that he had left behind his "seedy" past appeared somewhat premature as he was told by Judge Guy Whitburn at Newcastle Crown Court that he had squandered his money on "egocentric folly" and his offending merited an immediate custodial sentence.

A man who claimed "The biggest thing that turns me on, besides the missus, is proving people wrong" had been proved just that. When he took on the chairmanship of Darlington FC, he famously said: "I'm dyslexic, backward, mentally deficient and I couldn't read or write. So I've got everything going for me as chairman of a football club." Everything, it would appear, except, as his barrister, David Robson QC, revealed this week, even the slightest interest in football.

Reynolds' story behind in poverty in Sunderland between the wars, when he was orphaned. He played truant from school and was sent, or, as he put it, sold, to a residential school where children slept in freezing dormitories and were forced to mix cement and pick potatoes. His reports were littered with phrases like mentally deficient, retarded and backward.

By the 1960s he was serving a six-month spell for theft and put in solitary confinement for comparing the Durham prison governor to a Nazi. He turned to safecracking during a career which he later conceded was so unsuccessful he would have earned more as a bus conductor. He nevertheless used his time in jail to teach himself to read and write, and in Lancashire's Kirkham Open Prison in 1964 he learnt from the accountants and solicitors incarcerated with him. He emerged and started with an ice-cream van, moving on to a milk bar and nightclub before establishing a kitchen worktop business. By the time he sold part of it in 1988 it was worth £32m.

In May 1999 he took over as chairman of Darlington Football Club, pumping £27m into the venture. Mayhem ensued at the Division Three club as players walked out after his wife claimed they threw matches and Reynolds made threatening home visits to the local newspaper's editor.

The prosecuting counsel Christopher Knox explained that Reynolds used money from his company's legitimate directors' expenses account to fund his extravagance, and added that he treated HM Customs and Revenue with "cavalier contempt".

Reynolds was given five years to repay his £424,252.50 share or face a consecutive five-year prison sentence, while Tennick, sentenced to two years, is threatened with a further three-year term if he fails to pay £225,747.50.

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