A FAILED Worcester businessman who fraudulently avoided paying £80,000 in VAT has been jailed for two years.

Anthony Howlett, 60, was told that an aggravating feature was that his offences took place over a six-year period, for three businesses.

He was sentenced after previously pleading guilty to knowingly conspiring in the fraudulent evasion of VAT in Worcester between October 1, 2010, and November 20, 2016.

Howlett obtained VAT credit through submitting false tax returns, the court heard.

Daniel Oscroft, prosecuting, told Worcester Crown Court that Howlett had been the sole proprietor in three businesses, Specialist Distribution, AJ Freight Ltd and AJ Freight (Sameday Ltd), and said there was "constant activity" for VAT repayments, which led to him coming to the notice of the authorities.

Mr Oscroft said that in total more than £193,000 was claimed but, through overpayment in the early years of the businesses, the fraudulent activity amounted to £83,252.

"There is high culpability because it was fraudulent activity over a sustained period of time," Mr Oscroft said. "Money was used to help the struggling businesses, running at a loss.

"There is no realistic prospect of recovering something from a confiscation order. If ever there was a time he was in a position (to pay money back), an order would be made."

Dalwyn Jones, defending, said having been a delivery driver in 2010, Howlett decided to become the sole director of his own firm.

But Mr Jones said Howlett made the "naive" mistake of relying heavily on one customer for business, an error also repeated for a second firm, AJ Freight Ltd, set up with another man who later left.

"They put their eggs all into one basket," Mr Jones said. "They didn't have ongoing work, the business was not profitable. Howlett was totally out of his depth."

Mr Jones said the third business set up, AJ Freight (Sameday), had been a "last attempt" at getting more work.

"By this stage he was completely broken as a businessman," Mr Jones said. "The offending was an endeavour to prop up failing businesses, there was a lack of sophistication (to the offending).

"He was ill-equipped to run those businesses. In essence he was a minnow in a large, competitive world."

Mr Jones added that Howlett, of Bedwardine Close, Rushwick, was remorseful, and had also suffered because, when both his parents died in quick succession, he used £100,000 of his inheritance to keep the businesses from failing, "to no avail".

In appealing for any jail sentence to be suspended, Mr Jones added that the divorced dad-of-two had no intention of returning to the industry.

Sentencing Howlett, Judge Nichola Cartwright said the length of time over which Howlett offended was the aggravating factor.

"It happened in a period of austerity," the judge said. "That money could have been used to fund public services which were being cut."

The judge said the sentence was 27 months in prison and that, legally, this could not be suspended. He added that Howlett could expect to serve half the time in jail.

A second count, of knowingly being involved in the fraudulent evasion of income tax and National Insurance contributions, was allowed to lie on file.

The case was heard at Worcester Crown Court on Friday.