Celebrity chef’s blast over VAT offences prosecution

Paul Heathcote
Paul Heathcote
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Celebrity chef Paul Heathcote has attacked the decision to take him to court for VAT offences.

The 53-year-old restaurant owner was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay more than £7,000 compensation at Preston Magistrates’ Court after HM Revenue and Customs brought 30 charges under the VAT Act.

But in a statement Mr Heathcote said: “I still believe that there was no necessity to take this to court. Our compensation offer to HMRC prior to the hearing was substantially higher than the amount actually awarded.

“I am pleased that we have a conclusion to the matter. It has been an unwanted distraction in a challenging economic environment.”

Mr Heathcote, who was awarded the MBE in 2009 for services to catering, was prosecuted after he ignored a trading ban imposed on his restaurants in Preston and Longridge. The court was told the chef de-registered his previous company, The Longridge Restaurant, for VAT in 2011 owing almost £100,000 in unpaid taxes. On the same day he registered two new companies, PH Restaurants (Longridge) Ltd and PH Restaurants (Preston) Ltd.

HMRC ordered him to pay £72,190 VAT before they were allowed to trade. It was alleged he ignored the order for three months.

But Mr Heathcote said: “I have always accepted that the bond was paid late. I made efforts to raise the finance to meet the payment, but these did not prove successful.

“We have clearly demonstrated that all our other payments have been made on time and we have always maintained that the company was happy to compensate for any potential loss to HMRC.

“I am delighted the judge agreed with our position. He summarised that I was of good character with a sound track record and of an honest nature.”

At the hearing, Colin Spinks, assistant director of Criminal Investigation at HMRC, told the court: “Mr Heathcote was given numerous opportunities to continue trading legitimately, but he chose to flout the law.

“We will take action to ensure the correct tax is paid and investigate those who are subject to a trading ban because they owe VAT.”

The court was told that Mr Heathcote, of Higher Road, Preston, had subsequently paid the £25,018 security required for the Preston restaurant.

He founded his first restaurant in Longridge in 1990 at the age of 29.

He became a regular on television and scooped Michelin Stars, Catey Awards and the Egon Ronay Chef of the Year award.

Mr Heathcote is the figure behind Heathcotes Brasserie and The Olive Press in Preston.