A Lowestoft printer who carried out a £97,000 VAT fraud has been jailed for 15 months.

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Stuart Brown, who ran Vivid Prints at Battery Green Road, used his printing skills to forge fake invoices which he used to falsely claim thousands of pounds of VAT repayments from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Brown, 38, of Bentley Drive, Lowestoft, had denied 11 charges of falsely claiming that Vivid Prints was entitled to VAT repayment based on figures in VAT returns which were false or over-inflated between May 2010 and March 2011. He also denied a charge of making or supplying false invoices for use in fraud.

He was found guilty of all 12 offences following a trial at Ipswich Crown Court earlier this month.

Brown was sentenced on Friday.

Sentencing, Judge John Devaux said that at a time when Brown’s business was “limping along” he had seen the opportunity to make a lot of money by inflating his claims for VAT repayments.

“The evidence against you appeared to the court to be very strong but you brazened it out until the end of the trial,” the judge told him.

There was no evidence of Brown living the high life, although he had spent more than £12,000 on drums.

Judge Devaux said: “Your evidence was that it was part of you serving your Lord and your Church but you did so at the expense of the Revenue and ultimately the taxpayer.”

Allister Walker, prosecuting, told the court Brown was a sole trader and was responsible for completing his business’s VAT returns and records. “The prosecution case is that the business was in poor shape and as a result the defendant falsely represented business figures to HMRC in order to receive large VAT repayments,” Mr Walker said.

During the trial Brown denied claiming money he was not entitled to from HMRC. He said the money he had received as repayments had gone back into his business and he was “disgusted” by allegations that he had acted dishonestly and had forged fake invoices.

He told the court he was a regular church- goer and played drums during services.

Gerard Pounder, for Brown, said his client had been running a modest business which had only been making £1,500 a year which equated to £30 a week.

He said Brown had no previous convictions. “This was a legitimate business and he succumbed to dishonest temptation,” said Mr Pounder.

After the case Paul Barton, HMRC assistant director of criminal investigation, said: “Brown thought he could use his professional skills as a printer to produce what he thought were convincing fake invoices, but it soon became obvious to our officers that they were part of his scam to steal tens of thousands of pounds.

“We will not hesitate to investigate those we suspect of committing fraud.”

Anyone with information about people who may be involved in tax evasion or fraud should contact the Tax Evasion Hotline on 0800 788 887.

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