In a little-reported case at Oxford crown court on Monday, a 60-year-old businessman named Philip Bowles, with no previous conviction, found himself jailed for supposedly switching a VAT liability between two companies. He bitterly protested that he was unable to mount an effective defence because his cash had been seized in advance from his office, as an "asset" under David Blunkett's crass Proceeds of Crime Act. In addition his tax records had been taken by administrators. Bowles was refused legal aid to get a forensic accountant to exhume his seized records, which he thus could not use to defend himself.

After his conviction, an independent financial report into the tax records was submitted to the court but the judge was clearly confused at the sentencing. He admitted that the documents might have exonerated Bowles and implied that there was a case for the jury decision being overturned on appeal. He said he was "loth to put a man in prison if he shouldn't be there", yet added that the whole thing had "dragged on". So he called Bowles a "very serious cheat", banged him up for three and a half years and demanded he pay £130,000 in prosecution costs.

To all appearances, a gross injustice has been done to lift a large sum of money from a man carefully rendered defenceless by the authorities to enrich their budgets. Since the pointless, life-destroying jail term could cost the state as much as £140,000, the whole farrago will leave the taxpayer worse off than if Bowles and Revenue & Customs had been left to squabble before an arbitrator. Another crime is added to the statistics, and work is created for all.

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