A businessman who denies cheating the tax man of more than £90,000 applied for legal aid to fight the case and was dumbfounded to be asked for £117,416 towards his defence costs.
Richard Hillgrove, whose PR firm represents Dragons’ Den stars Duncan Bannatyne, James Caan and Simon Woodroffe, says cashflow problems after a client went bust owing £50,000 are at the root of the dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
He says arrangements were in place to pay arrears when tax investigators staged a dawn raid on his home at Somerton, Somerset. He was charged with fraud and the case is to be heard at Taunton Crown Court.
Mr Hillgrove said: “If I had that amount of money readily available there wouldn’t be have been an issue with tax arrears in the first place.
“I will be appealing the sum. This is not an issue of hardship. The key issue is that all available monies need to be made available to pay tax arrears as a priority. Everyone should pay their taxes.”
Mr Hillgrove appeared before the Crown Court last month. The case was adjourned without a plea being taken. He is due back before the court in December.
The Legal Services Commission has given him the option of paying £117,416 towards his legal costs over six instalments or getting a discount of £10,786 by making a single payment of £106,630.
“I think it would make more sense to pay the outstanding tax. Something seriously needs to change in Britain,” he said.
The fees paid to lawyers funded through legal aid are considerably less than privately funded lawyers and if a defendant is found not guilty his contribution is returned. Mr Hillgrove can ask for a review of his contribution if the believes it has been wrongly calculated.
A Legal Services Commission spokesperson, said: “The means testing scheme ensures more affluent defendants pay a fair share from their income and capital towards the cost of their defence.”
Mr Hillgrove is launching an anti-bullying campaign about what he claims are the disproportionate measures used by the HMRC towards “decent average citizens”.
He said: “Facebook, who pay virtually no tax on their earnings in Europe, are the ones who deserve the attention of the HMRC, not little guys fighting to makes ends meet. Like bullies in the playground, they don’t go for the big boys, only the ones they think they can kick about a bit.”
An HMRC spokeswoman said: “The HMRC investigation regarding Mr Hillgrove is now before the courts and therefore we cannot comment.”