Identity fraud victim: ‘I was terrified I would go to prison’

Kerry Clegg had her identity stolen

Kerry Clegg had her identity stolen

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A mum-of-four’s identity was stolen by the captain of a U-boat themed tourist attraction to help him commit a tax fraud of £1m.

Horrified Kerry Clegg, from Avenham Place, Newton-with-Scales, near Preston, received a letter from HMRC telling her she would be interviewed under caution for fraud.

When she attended the interview four years ago, she was shown passports in her name with other people’s pictures, and business documents relating to ‘her’ bed-selling business - which she had no idea existed.

The fraudster behind the scheme, ‘Captain’ Richard Williams, also known as Steven Howarth, had met her once at his brother’s family party.

He had a canal boat in the guise of a German wartime U-boat, sometimes moored at Chorley, which he used to tour the North West and beyond, using it as a tourist attraction and school visit venue.

He was arrested in 2012 after Customs officials discovered he and wife Laurel Howarth had been hijacking the identities of friends and associates to try to hide the elaborate VAT fraud.

Ms Clegg, 33, today spoke of her four-year ordeal after the couple were locked up by a judge over their offences.

The children’s centre worker said: “It was awful, I felt like I had done something wrong when I hadn’t.

“I had only ever claimed working tax credits so when a letter came through the door about tax fraud I was horrified.

“My ex-partner is friends with the defendant’s brother, so I had met him once at a family party, with his wife and child, but do not know him beyond that.

“The investigators said he had been claiming tax back for a bed business in my name, He had my national insurance number too.

“His brother’s bed business used to be opposite my ex-partner’s family business.

“I had no clue what was going on and fortunately the officials soon recognised I was the victim,.

“Luckily, as far as I know there were no debts in my name, just a business I knew nothing about.”

At the time Kerry had two children Kayleigh, now 15, and Harrison, now eight, and was terrified she would go to jail.

Since the fraud came to light she has another son Elliott, 19 months, and five-month-old baby Lola Faith with partner Scott, 33.

Manchester Crown Court heard the £1m VAT fraud involved fake accounting for multiple businesses, which claimed to sell beds for disabled people.

The businesses were registered as trading in Blackpool, Lancaster and Workington but the evidence HMRC gathered showed no or minimum sales occurred.