Football club chairman in tax case jailed

THE FORMER chairman of Swindon Town Football Club, Brian Hillier, was yesterday jailed for 12 months for his part in a tax fraud to make secret payments to players.

Vince Farrar, 41, the club's former part-time accountant, was given a six-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months, when the two men appeared for sentence at Winchester Crown Court. They had been convicted on a tax conspiracy charge after a five- week trial.

Lou Macari, the club's former manager, was cleared on Wednesday of his alleged part in the tax fiddle. Mr Macari, a former Celtic and Manchester United player who is now manager of Stoke City, sat in the public benches to hear mitigation pleas on behalf of his co-accused before the sentences were passed.

Judge Ian Starforth-Hill told Hillier he was convicted on the 'most overwhelming evidence'. It was clear he had put into practice a scheme to pay substantial sums of cash to players without the knowledge of the Football League and to avoid tax.

Hillier had maintained that such practices were common throughout the country. The judge said: 'If that were to be the case, though I do not accept that, it is high time someone was made an example of to see it does not happen again.'

It was clear, he added, something had to be done to stop football clubs behaving in this way, if it was the case.

The judge told Farrar that he accepted that he played a minor role as part-time bookeeper. Farrar was not a qualified accountant, and when he became aware of the illegal activities it was difficult for him to give up his job because of family commitments.

The judge imposed a conditional discharge for 12 months on a charge of false accounting on which Farrar was also convicted.

Michael Hubbard QC, told the judge earlier yesterday the estimated tax loss was at least pounds 100,000. It had now been repaid.

On Wednesday Hillier, of Heddington, near Calne, Wiltshire, and Farrar, formerly of Lower Blunsdon, near Swindon, were both found guilty on a charge that they conspired to make payments to staff without deduction of income tax and national insurance contributions.

The court was told that the scam - between January 1985 and April 1990 - involved hundreds of thousands of pounds. It concerned illegal payments with signing-on fees, top-ups of wages and man-of-the-match awards.

It was financed by diverting cash from programme sales, gate receipts, sponsorship and supporters' club funds. It was revealed after a major Inland Revenue investigation began in February 1990.

Swindon Town's former secretary, David King, has previously admitted the conspiracy charge. He is to appear before the Crown Court for sentence next Friday.

Mr Macari, 43, of Loughton, Essex, declined to speak to journalists after the hearing. But through a legal representative he said: 'I feel great sympathy for Mr Hillier. He has been dealt with very unfairly.'

An Inland Revenue spokesman said after the hearing: 'Tax evasion is not a victimless crime - the real victims are the great majority of honest taxpayers who have to pay more because of tax lost through evasion.'