So Harry was not guilty – a decision which surprised me in one sense but not in another.

Having looked at the facts, and with the cynicism gained from 36 years of tax enquiry work I had expected the jury to find him guilty. A friend of mine attended Southwark Crown Court on the first Friday and phoned me during the lunch break to say that Harry was innocent, and he was proved correct (I’ll never hear the end of it!!). 

So what happened – how was it that HMRC and CPS spent a rumoured £8m on the case and lost? Why spend £8m on a case with less than £100k tax at stake? I suspect that the reason the case was pursued is that HMRC is very keen to shock taxpayers into compliance, and what better way than to successfully prosecute a household name? Did HMRC have sufficient evidence to be successful – perhaps not, but to settle for that does not give sufficient credit to the defence team. 

Harry himself is no stranger to planning a tactical approach to his work, as anyone witnessing Gareth Bale’s terrorising of foreign defences last season can testify. Football is all about spotting the weak links in the opposition and exploiting them, whilst making plans to adopt your own team’s style of play to cover your weak areas, and this is what Harry’s defence team achieved in splendid fashion. 

The bare facts could lead to an assumption of guilt and it was never going to be easy to provide logical explanations for the opening of the Monaco bank account, etc. So Harry’s team spotted its strong point – the man himself! Harry is well liked by both the general public and indeed journalists, and his defence focussed on portraying him as “one of us” – not well educated, can hardly write his name, no good with modern technology, pays far more in taxes than he was accused of having evaded, strong family man – quite simply someone with whom 12 impartial observers on the jury could empathise,like,and feel drawn to as opposed to the cold, hard image of HMRC seeking to prosecute someone who appeared to be a simple soul trying to lead a normal life. 

In many ways this was not dissimilar to the Ken Dodd prosecution some years ago, when HMRC again failed in its efforts to prosecute a popular public figure for tax evasion. 

None of this is rocket science. Every tax enquiry has it’s strengths and weaknesses and the experienced advisor will look tirelessly for the strength of his client’s case and the weakness in that of HMRC.Once these have been correctly identified, it is vital that they are worked on in the right manner – subtle use is usually much more effective than aggression – and an acceptable conclusion can then be reached.HMRC is reluctant to negotiate these days, but when faced with the weakness in its case, it will come to the negotiating table. Harry’s team analysed the case quite superbly, built on the strong point (the accused) and emphasised the weakness of HMRC’s case (lack of firm evidence) and recorded an outstanding victory for their client. 

Jimmy Greaves once said that “football is a funny old game” – could it be that Harry might now become England manager, win the Euro’s and be knighted for services to football? 

You never know, if he gets his tactics right…………………

This blog covers tax investigations of all types, including serious fraud and disclosure facilities. It also includes comment on any other HMRC activity which it is felt may be of interest to accountants and their clients.