John Simpson: I'm lodging a complaint about tax dodging

I've paid for the privilege of living in Britain. But it is a privilege, all the same


Just because you are a journalist, it doesn't mean you like seeing your name in the newspapers. Especially not if the implication in the article about you is that you are a tax dodger. Several newspapers carried similar stories on Tuesday, based on the fact that my home is owned by a trust based in the Bahamas.

In today's climate, the very mention of the name "Bahamas" looks dodgy. The identical implication of the stories was that the house had been put into the trust to avoid inheritance tax. At a time when various well-known figures have been revealed to belong to aggressive tax-avoidance schemes, this story seemed to put me in the same category.

The fact is, the trust is a family one associated with my wife, who is South African, and was set up long before we were married and had a child to leave it to. That didn't get a mention. Nor did the fact that we have been doing everything we can for some time to have the trust dissolved: not a quick and easy business, and certainly not a cheap one. And no one thought to suggest that the house, as with most people in this country, is mortgaged.

There is, as it happens, nothing illegal or dubious about having assets in a trust: check with an accountant – or a tax inspector. Until very recently, no one would even have raised an eyebrow. But I decided some time ago to ask my wife if she would agree to a more conventional method of home ownership; and she did.

I spend long months every year out of Britain, and so does my wife. For many years, we lived in Ireland, where I have citizenship. It would have been very easy to drift off into non-residence. Instead, I went the other way, and decided to move back full-time to Britain and pay British income tax, although I am still abroad as much as I've ever been.

It hasn't been easy, and I've paid for the privilege. But it is a privilege, all the same. So to see myself smeared with the accusation of tax-dodging is very annoying indeed.

The Independent carried the story first, whatever the inferences its readers may have drawn. Two other newspapers, scenting an anti-BBC story, didn't bother to make any checks and simply used The Independent's article as useful research material, adding their own spin.

Now, if ever someone on another newspaper wants to write something about me, this will appear on their computer screens alongside the rest of it. Maybe they'll spot the truth when they see it.

John Simpson is the world affairs editor for BBC News

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