A CONVICTED fraudster, Jamie Colwell, convinced a flying instructor to drop him off in France during a lesson before going on the run with his elderly father in Spain.
Colwell junior had been convicted of a £1million VAT scam with his dad Brian, 74, and while on bail he hatched the plan to head to sunny Spain, despite having his passport confiscated.
A court in the UK was told Colwell, 51, hired someone to drive his father to France via Dover in his Porsche Cayenne. The driver then returned with Brian Colwell’s passport and Jamie booked a flying lesson in Kent in his father’s name.
During the lesson, when the light aircraft entered French airspace, he convinced the instructor to land at an airfield and let him out.
He then met up with his father and the pair fled to Spain’s Costa del Sol where they hired someone to drive a rental van with their furniture to the south of Spain.
The Colwells were bogus property developers involved in a house building scam and raked in almost £1million in VAT repayments they weren’t entitled to.
The pair told the HMRC they had spent £14million building new properties, which are zero-rated and mean developers can claim back VAT, but in reality the homes never existed.
Officials from the HMRC launched an investigation after the defendants failed to appear at Bournemouth Crown Court in January for sentencing.
They were able to track the rental van’s journey to an address in southern Spain where the father and son were arrested in May.
They were extradited back to the UK where Jamie Colwell was jailed for five years and three months and his father imprisoned for two years and eight months for fraud.
The pair also admitted offences of breaching court bail conditions and were each given an extra six months on top of their original sentences.
Tom Wilkins, prosecuting, said: “It was a very simple fraud, they had been reclaiming VAT for fictitious business expenses they had never incurred because the work had never been done.
“They bought high-performance cars for their own use – Range Rovers, Porsches and the like.”
He described the pair’s attempt to escape justice as a “flagrant breach of bail”.
He said: “It was done with some sophistication, it wasn’t just a sudden flight, it involved preparation and planning.
Richard Wilkinson, assistant director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “The Colwells thought they could evade prison and use their criminal cash to fund a new life but they were wrong.
“With close cooperation from our international law enforcement partners we tracked the fugitives down, so they can now look forward to jail instead.”