THE boss of a Hampshire haulage firm has been spared jail after attempting to defraud the taxpayer out of almost £40,000.

Trevor Oakley submitted a fraudulent VAT claim for the purchase of two lorries for his business Oakley Logistics Limited.

He later emailed a fake hire purchase agreement and fake invoice to tax investigators after they began probing his claim.

Oakley, whose tax claim was rejected, denied any wrongdoing when interviewed by police and later in court.

But the 63-year-old, of Coxford Drive, Southampton, was found guilty by a jury.

Appearing at Southampton Crown Court, Oakley was given a suspended prison sentence.

He was also banned from being a company director for three years.

The court heard how Oakley first made VAT repayment claim to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in July 2018.

Using fake documents, he made a claim for £37,598 for the purchase of two lorries.

Just weeks later, HMRC contacted Oakley and requested more information to support his claim.

Oakley replied in an email with a fake hire purchase agreement and a fake invoice.

Days later, officers from HMRC visited Oakley in the hope of seeing the vehicles.

But their request was rejected by Oakley, who told the officers that the lorries were already on the road in Scotland – despite the fact he did not have DVLA documents.

In August last year, Oakley voluntarily attended Southampton Central Police Station, where he was interviewed under caution.

He was later charged with fraudulent submission of VAT repayment claim and two counts of making, adapting, supplying or offering to supply an article for use in fraud.

Oakley denied the allegations, but was found guilty by a jury following a three day hearing.

At his sentencing at Southampton Crown Court on Tuesday, prosecutor Richard Martin described said: "We would say that he (Oakley) was in a position of responsibility as a person responsible for VAT and that he made the fraudulent claim and tried his best, albeit hopeless best, to cheat HMRC out of a relatively sizeable amount of money."

Mr Martin said a probation report had highlighted that Oakley showed "no remorse" for his actions.

Oakley, who represented himself, said the court process was "over his head".

He spoke sparingly, only to give his personal circumstances, telling the court that he had since stepped down as the director of the company, which was now run by his son.

He added that his wife was in remission, that he suffered from an irregular heartbeat.

In sentencing Oakley to a 12 month prison term, suspended for two years, Judge Nicholas Rowland described Oakley's actions as "opportunistic".

He said: "On the face of it, it would seem that you intended to cause loss to HMRC

"But in fact it is the taxpayer who the HMRC represents and it those people whose money you were trying to obtain."

He added: "You have no previous convictions, you are a man of previous good character and your fraudulent claim was not a success

"You are no longer the director of the company, though it would make little difference in this case (due to the ban).

"This clearly crosses the custody threshold but I'm prepared to suspend the sentence."

As well as a suspended sentence, Oakley was ordered to complete 200 hours unpaid work and pay court costs of £1,000.

Zoe Ellerbeck, Assistant Director, HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “HMRC will pursue criminals who attack the tax system. VAT fraud steals money from vital public services such as schools and hospitals and this crime could have paid the salary of a fully-trained full-time Hampshire firefighter for a year."