Firm boss denies pretending to be official Government website
A director of an alleged scam tax return website has denied it was designed to mimic an official Government site.
Stephen Oliver, 47, of The Folly, West Boldon, was giving evidence in his own defence in the trial of four men accused of fraud in relation to their taxreturngateway site.
Oliver, Jamie Wyatt, Michael Hughes, and Richard Hough are alleged to have made more than £5m from the site in five months.
Taxreturngateway was run from offices in North Hylton Road, Sunderland, from October 17, 2013, until it 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.
Graham Trembath QC, defending Oliver, said to him: “A key part of the prosecution allegation is that taxreturngateway was designed to, and did deliberately and dishonestly, lead people into thinking it was the official HMRC site”
Oliver replied: “That is nonsense. We knew we had to be very clear to distinguish ourselves from the HMRC website.
“We thought the best way to do that was by the use of disclaimers and a comparison table. In the table we compared our service to the service offered by HMRC. By doing that, it must have been obvious to users we were not HMRC.”
Oliver said for the first few weeks of taxreturngateway’s operation the table appeared ‘below the fold’ on the site’s homepage, meaning users on most devices would have to scroll down to see it.
“To make it even clearer we moved the table to the top corner of the page,” said Oliver.
“It was a fledgling business, and we were making improvements in the site in response to customer feedback.”
He added: “The box made it clear we were a company, not HMRC. There were also disclaimers on the site to the effect.”
The jury heard Mr Oliver has a first class degree in law, and was a visiting lecturer at Sunderland University, where he met co-defendant The court was told Hough’s wife came up with idea for taxreturngateway.
“She said the official HMRC service was clunky and cumbersome,” said Mr Oliver. “We agreed there was an opportunity to streamline it.”
Oliver, Wyatt, 27, of Peartree Rise, Seaton, Seaham, Hughes,26, formerly of Hutton Henry, 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.