Jury in alleged 'scam tax return' website trial told to put 'strong emotions' to one side

From left, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.
From left, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes and Stephen Oliver.

A jury trying four men accused of making millions from an alleged scam tax return website has been told to put their emotions to one side.

Stephen Oliver, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes, and Richard Hough are alleged to have made more than £5m from their taxreturngateway site in five months.

It was run from offices in North Hylton Road, Sunderland, from October 17, 2013, until if closed in the spring of the following year due to hundreds of complaints.

Users claimed the site misled them into thinking they were dealing with the official Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs site, Teesside Crown Court heard.

During six weeks of evidence, the jury heard from a string of users who said they thought money paid to the site would come off their tax bill, but the site kept their cash as fees.

Hundreds of people complained to trading standards departments up and down the country, and the site was the subject of a number of critical articles in newspapers.

In his closing speech to the jury, Michael Duck QC, for Hough, said: "You have heard many emotive words and phrases in this trial, such as 'scam' and 'follow the money'.

"It is important you put the strong emotions such phrases engender to one side, look at this case dispassionately, and try the case on the evidence.

"The prosecution bring this case against Richard Hough, a man who has never been in any trouble whatsoever.

"The prosecution has to prove the case, he doesn't have to prove anything."

Mr Duck said the jury had to consider if Hough was acting dishonestly when he helped to set up taxreturngateway.

"There is no doubt those who complained felt they had been misled into believing they were dealing directly with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Mr Duck told the jury.

"No doubt they felt wronged, but were they really wronged, or had they simply made a mistake?

"No one blames them for that, we all make mistakes.

"But we are not here to try what was in their minds, we are to try what was in the minds of Mr Hough and the others when they set up taxreturngateway.

"On any sensible analysis there are significant differences between the HMRC site and taxreturngateway."

Mr Duck showed the jury several emails Mr Hough had written to business contacts inviting them to become involved in taxreturngateway.

"You might think someone setting up a scam business would play their cards close to their chest," said Mr Duck.

"Not do as Mr Hough did,which was to contact several prominent businessmen about it.

"He discussed it with a number of large companies, which you might think is a curious approach for someone acting dishonestly."

The four defendants, Wyatt, 27, of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Seaham, Hughes,, 26, formerly of Hutton Henry, now also of Peartree Rise, Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, and Hough, 43, of Thorpe Waterville, Kettering, Northants, each deny conspiracy to defraud between June, 2013, and June, 2014.

Wyatt, Hughes, and Oliver deny a second charge of conspiring to defraud by denying consumers the right to cancel under distance selling regulations.

Judge Stephen Ashurst is expected to sum the case up to the jury on Wednesday, after which the panel will retire to begin its deliberations.