A BLAKEDOWN businessman who went on the run for six years when facing trial on VAT fraud charges has been jailed for nine months at Worcester Crown Court.

Keith Wood jumped bail and fled the country to America in a bid to save his marriage.

The prosecution offered no evidence against him on four fraud charges totalling £136,193 - because vital papers in the case had been lost but Judge Andrew Geddes imposed the prison sentence for the failure to answer bail which, he said, undermined the administration of justice.

Wood, 43, of Mill Close, Blakedown, had denied fraudulent evasion of VAT. Not guilty verdicts were recorded.

Customs and Excise had moved offices some time ago and the case papers had been lost, said Graham Buchanan, prosecuting.

The judge said this was not a satisfactory situation and asked for an investigation.

Miss Valerie Charbit, defending, pleaded for Wood, who had no previous convictions, to be allowed to retain his freedom.

He had gone to America eight years ago after his US wife gave him an ultimatum that he should go back with her to her homeland.

Foolishly, he had tried to continue his marriage. He returned to Britain 18 months ago and was arrested by police on a motoring charge.

His defection had led to his 67-year-old mother losing her £5,000 surety and she was being forced to go back to work as a supply teacher to pay off loans he had taken out.

Miss Charbit said Wood had started a successful one-man business and had repaid his mother for the lost surety cash. Unfortunately, she was still guarantor for his loans.