Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Thursday, 29 November 2007

The conman who duped the taxman

Malcolm Edwards-Sayer
Edwards-Sayer was labelled a conman by Customs and Excise
It was a multi-million pound fraud involving a lay minister who bought a lordship and stole 51m from Britain's taxpayers.

Malcolm Edwards-Sayer, 49, set up the fraud which involved the purported import of mobile phones and computer chips VAT-free from various EU countries.

The goods would then be sold on VAT added through a chain of companies.

Once the goods had been sold on a number of times they would be exported back to EU countries and the companies would default or go "missing" before making their tax repayments.

But HM Revenue and Customs - strengthened by new powers - tracked him down to his Beeston home.

The multi-million pound scheme began in 2002 and was designed to lead Revenue and Customs investigators round in circles.

But after an intensive operation officers unravelled the VAT scam and led Edwards-Sayer to jail.

Nick Burriss from HM Revenue and Customs
His 51m VAT fraud is almost exactly twice the value of the gold bullion that was stolen from Brinks-Matt
Nick Burris, HM Revenue and Customs

The prolific fraudster's career included work as a lay preacher, a law lecturer, and posing as a solicitor; jobs which placed him in positions of trust.

Edwards-Sayers graduated from Nottingham University but was dismissed from his subsequent traineeship.

This did not stop him pretending to be legally qualified and he applied to Claims Direct to be on its solicitors panel.

Edwards-Sayer, a regular worshipper at St Michael and All Angels in Bramcote, trained for three years to become a lay preacher, then between 2002 and 2005 practiced in churches around the Beeston deanery until the diocese revoked his licence.

Former area dean of Beeston, the Reverend Jonathan Smithurst, said: "His content was always very good, very thoughtful, coherent. And he was articulate and really a very good communicator."

He said he was "absolutely taken aback" at the extent of Edwards-Sayer's deception.

South East Derbyshire College in Ilkeston was another institution which had no reason to doubt Malcolm Edwards-Sayer, who worked there from 2002 to 2004 as a part-time law lecturer.

'Veneer of respectability'

College Principal Linnia Khemdoudi said: "As far as we know he had a degree in law, which qualifies him to teach A-Level law, and had all the rest of the qualifications that we would require."

HM Revenue and Customs' Nick Burriss said: "His 51m VAT fraud is almost exactly twice the value of the gold bullion that was stolen from Brinks-Matt in the famous robbery.

"We are talking about the wholesale large scale theft of what should be public money.

St Michael and All Angels church in Bramcote
The VAT conman was a "very good preacher"

"This is money which, if properly collected, would go towards such things as health and education."

Edwards-Sayer also bought a lordship, in the name of Lord Houghton, an action which Mr Burriss said was probably done to enable him to open offshore accounts to further his fraudulent activity.

"But also I think it's demonstrative of the fact that what we have here is someone who is essentially a conman. And getting a title like that he hopes will give him a veneer of respectability that he simply doesn't have."

Prior to his sentencing on Thursday, Edwards-Sayer had been in custody since October 2005 after being jailed for six months for breaching an order banning him from using his parents' bank accounts.

His detached house will now be one of the assets which could be seized, as HM Revenue & Customs starts the search for the missing millions.

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