A warning to lawyers
A bankruptcy-specialist barrister has been jailed for committing tax fraud of almost £100k after lying to HMRC about his earnings.
Christopher Wilkins (called to the bar in 1993) got into huge debt following a failed investment in an overseas property around the time of the 2008 financial crash. He entered into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement in 2013 to try to manage his debt and avoid bankruptcy. Despite owing thousands to creditors, the barrister still paid £5,000 a month in private school fees for his children.
As his financial woes spiralled, between March 2012 and June 2017, Wilkins made false VAT returns by understating his income, and inflating his expenses. But in May 2017 he was rumbled as revenue officers seized his financial records.
During its investigation, HMRC compared Wilkins’ VAT declarations to those provided by his chambers, which revealed that he had lied about his income to reduce his tax liability, over the five year period. HMRC calculated that Wilkins had evaded tax to the tune of £98,732, while earning £740,000 over that period.
Wilkins was charged in February 2020, and pleaded guilty to VAT fraud Taunton Crown Court in November 2021.
"He is a walking parable of what can happen to a good man when he gets into debt," said Charles Bott QC, Wilkins' defence barrister. Wilkins had put paying his children's school fees above everything else, said his barrister, but had now "lost his reputation" and "his professional status" which had left him "noticeably isolated and depressed."
Judge Paul Cook noted that Wilkins' motivation was not his own financial gain but "emotional pressure" to not let others down. However, the judge said Wilkins offended over a long period and, as a barrister specialising in bankruptcy, would have known more than most not to defraud HMRC.
The judge concluded that while Wilkins did not "present a risk" there had to be "an immediate term bearing in mind the substantial amount and long period" of the fraud. On 12 January, the court sentenced Wilkins to 21 months in jail.
"As a trusted barrister, Christopher Wilkins should have known better than to try and cheat the system," said Zoe Ellerbeck, assistant director of fraud investigations at HMRC. "Nobody is above the law and tax fraud is not a victimless crime. People who defraud HMRC are stealing from their community by taking money away from hospitals, schools and other vital public services."