Boston staff appear in court over 'tax scam' on player wages

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The Independent Online

Senior Boston United officials cheated the taxman to save money and "prop up" their ailing football club, a court was told yesterday.

For years they systematically disguised the wages and bonuses paid to players and other staff as expenses, it was claimed. The scheme was so successful that it transformed the Lincolnshire club's fortunes, London's Southwark Crown Court was told.

Martin Hicks QC, prosecuting, said that it not only went from employing part-time players to full-time ones, but enjoyed welcome promotion through the leagues and saw its gates swell by 1,000 per cent.

"In doing so Boston United secured undoubtedly a competitive advantage, an advantage over rival football clubs, their players and their supporters at a time when promotion to the higher leagues was seen as key to the club's survival," Hicks said. He added that by the time the four-year plot ended, the public revenue had been left more than £323,000 the poorer.

In the dock are John Blackwell, the club's former general manager who was also its secretary at one time; the former club accountant Ian Lee, and Brian James, who looked after the club payroll for a period and served as a director. They all deny one count of conspiring to cheat the public revenue between 5 April 1997 and 1 June 2002.

The court was told that two other men "featured largely" in the case had pleaded guilty. They were the club manager Steve Evans, and one-time chairman, Patrick Malkinson.

Opening what is expected to be a six-week trial, Hicks said that the scam revolved around "Pay As You Earn" income tax and "Class 1" National Insurance Contributions, both of which "were owed in respect of the running of the football club".

"The method deployed was simple - wages to various players and staff which attract tax were disguised as out-of-pocket expenses which do not attract tax. Various fees and bonuses, such as signing-on fees or winning bonuses, went undisclosed when they should have been declared."

He told jurors the end-of-year tax returns submitted by the club were repeatedly paraded as "accurate and true". He added: "In reality they were false and dishonestly so."