Dudley fraudster who lived jet-set lifestyle on £1.3m of taxpayers' cash jailed for eight years

A Dudley fraudster who paid for a jet-set lifestyle by defrauding the taxpayer of £1.3 million has been brought down to earth with an eight-year jail sentence.

Lego lover Lee Hickinbottom will have hours to play with toy bricks in jail
Lego lover Lee Hickinbottom will have hours to play with toy bricks in jail

Lee Hickinbottom ran an "astonishing" VAT fraud through fake businesses all while claiming unemployment benefits, which eventually led to his bogus empire collapsing.

Judge Heidi Kubic sitting at Birmingham Crown Court was scathing about Hickinbottom calling him a compulsive liar who lived the high life on the back of hard-working taxpayers.

His fraudulent spending included splashing the cash on holidays from Paris to New York, hot tubs, iTunes, Everton season tickets, luxury cars and Lego.

Hickinbottom had two Jaguars to drive round Dudley

Judge Kubic said: "You displayed astonishing audacity and greed fraudulently claiming ever increasing sums on a monthly basis over a significant period of time. In all £1,234,000 went through your company.

"You enjoyed the perks of apparent success spending money on expensive cars and home improvements and showing off to friends and family,

"The reality is you lacked the necessary business acumen required to successfully to run these businesses and you were living it up at the expense of the taxpayer."

She added: "You set up two further companies perhaps to masquerade as a legitimate businessman. However, both businesses failed wholly without the injection of fraudulent activity, it was only a matter of time before you started claiming false VAT payments for those companies.

"As an indicator of your greed as you were fraudulently claiming VAT for these businesses you were claiming benefits you were not entitled to.

"It was the DWP looking into your finances which began the unravelling of your affairs.

"You are a persistent liar, you lied to the DWP and then in an effort to hoodwink the jury you shifted evidence but they saw through your lies and found you guilty."

Hickinbottom, 49, of Wolverhampton Street, Dudley, was jailed for eight years for VAT fraud and 18 months for falsely claiming benefits to run concurrently as well being disqualified as a company director for 15 years.

After jailing Hickinbottom the judge turned her attention to Tabatha Knott, 45, who let him join her company and then became his lover before becoming the mother of their two children.

The judge said she would have passed a custodial sentence but as she had just jailed the two children's father she could not incarcerate their mother on the same day.

Sentencing Knott, Bennett Street, Dudley, to 18 months, suspended, and 80 hours of community service, Judge Kubic said: "You were knowingly involved in fraudulent VAT returns, when Mr Hickinbottom got involved in the business.

"You are not a stupid or naive woman and benefited from this arrangement, you were in a personal relationship with Hickinbottom, though you might not known the full extent of his fraud you helped him.

"You bought cars, went holiday, a new kitchen and a plasma TV all paid for by hardworking taxpayers."

The couple visited Disneyland, the Louvre in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York in a whirlwind romance paid for by taxpayer's cash. They transformed their home with more than £120,000 in improvements and installing a hot tub.

Hickinbottom also loved Lego, he spent more than £1,500 on Lego kits for The Avengers, Batman and Tower Bridge, London, which he proudly showed off on social media.

Lee Hickinbottom's brother David, 37, and of Bolton Rise, Tipton had been convicted of VAT fraud despite being cleared of helping his brother's fraud.

However, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the time of the crimes and had a massive gambling problem, who now has failing health.

Judge Kubic sentenced him to 18 months, suspended, 100 hours community service and disqualified as a company director for seven years.

The police's proceeds of crime unit are currently working on reclaiming cash from all three defendants.

How Hickinbottom spent the cash

£346,512 was sent to friends and family including nearly £77k to his then-partner

£250,000 was spent on cars including a Jaguar F Pace, Jaguar XFs and a Land Rover Defender

£127,000 on revamping his Dudley home, including £22k on a kitchen and £13k on a hot tub

£20,000 worth of shares in a sweet company

£18,847 on iTunes

£15,925 on Apple products

£4,220 following Everton FC including £970 on season tickets

£1,500 on Lego

£1,000 on Alton Towers

£250,000 on cars including two Jaguars

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